Monday, January 09, 2006

Inflation in 2006

In the current Newsweek issue (January 9), Robert J. Samuelson says that 2006 will be a boring but moderately prosperous year IF nothing very bad happens to the US economy. Then he goes on to list 5 things that could derail the economy and send presumably it into recession. The five things are:
  • Housing goes bust
  • The dollar crashes
  • General Motors files for bankruptcy
  • Oil jumps to $85 a barrel
  • The yield curve inverts
    He did not see the need to ponder what would happen if all five things happen in the coming year. The all seem likely to me anyway. Except maybe the last item - I have no idea if yield curve will invert (I have tried to figure this one out. All it says to me is that the Fed is not in control. They want to raise interest rates, but they can only raise the short term rate, and the long term rate, set by the market, remains stubbornly low). But a housing market bust? virtually certain. The re-finance industry will come to a complete halt. Oil going to $85? Also near certain. And if a dollar buys that much less oil, and the liquidity in housing dissapears, then yes, the dollar will fall.

    There are some other dark clouds on the horizon that Samuelson didn't mention. War with Iran. This is looking more and more likely. Can there be anything more threatening? This would be the very worst thing at the worst time.

    A dark horse that no one seems to be thinking about is that commodity price inflation will spread from oil to such basic goods as corn, cotton, and soybeans. For now people seem to take it for granted that grains and other soft commodities will always be available at very cheap prices. I mean $2.20 for 50 pounds of corn??? I think corn will double this year and then double again next year. And corn is used to make many thousands of products. Same for soybeans. For years now the prices of these commodities have been held down by globalization: cheap production could always be found somewhere, like Brazil, Eastern Europe, if not America or Canada. But now the key factor in agricultural production is fuel and fertilizer (which is linked to natural gas) prices. These costs are going up worldwide, giving a very stong inflationary push to the dollar.
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