Tag Archives: hyperinflation

Hyperinflation and defaults in Europe

In my previous post, I purposefully selected Germany as the case of country that would need to be kicked out of the Europe due to its fiscal irresponsibility. Surely, most of you think the situation today is just the reverse and thus it was just a bit of irony…

… well, I wanted to come to it at a later point, in this post, to share the following graphic from the Wikipedia in which you can see the hyperinflation lived in Germany’s Weimar Republic between 1921 and 1923:

Weimar Republic hyperinflation. Source: Wolfgang Chr. Fischer

The explanation in the Wikipedia is astonishing, I recommend that reading.

The situation only stabilized when the Retenmark indexed to gold bonds was introduced at the end of 1923, by then there were notes of 1,000,000,000,000 marks (and even so there were two other cases of higher hyperinflations in History, in Hungary and Zimbabwe!).

Even though during those hyperinflationary years the Weimar Republic Germany did not default, Germany did so in 1932 and 1939, being those of the latest defaults in Western Europe… later than the latest from Greece or Portugal, as can be seen in the following table.

Sovereign Defaults in Europe. Source: Reinhart and Rogoff, “This time is different”, via Credit Suisse.

Finally, you may also see in the table that now, after 72 years since the end of the Spanish Civil War, we are living the longest period since 1800 (and second longest since 1500) that Spain has not defaulted on its debt! I am not sure whether this should be a source of calmness or worry.

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Invest in real assets (pencils if need be)

My previous post discussed why it is better to be invested in real assets vs. cash or bonds in order to protect your savings in case of a recession.

Even though all the references were to stocks, I kept the word “assets” instead of “stocks” in the title and conclusion of the previous post in order to come back to it a later time, in this post.

Bestinver fund managers, in their conferences, have often given examples of assets to be invested in to protect your wealth such as pencils, chairs, and, this year, books.

If by the time a recession came and inflation started to build up, you had all your fortune invested in pencils, the same discussion that was made in the previous post with stocks would hold true for pencils.

For example, say that Southern Europe (Greece, Portugal, Italy…) in a near future needs to kick Germany out of the Euro due to its fiscal irresponsibility. Germany would then have to use another currency, e.g. the Deutsche Mark. Say that at day one the mark would be worth 2DM = 1 Euro, as it was more or less 10 years ago.

Due to the inevitable capital runaway from Germany, Germany would most probably undergo a period of hyperinflation and mark devaluation that could very well end with 1 Euro being worth ~ 2.000 DM. Obviously, the prudent Bavarian who had all her savings in cash would have nearly lost all of them.

However, if this Bavarian had instead purchased pencils in order to protect her wealth, she would have seen a different outcome. Say a pencil cost 0.5€ at the beginning, or 1DM. After all the hyperinflationary period, and if German students still needed pencils for their classes a pencil would sell for ~1,000DM. Thus, as the theory goes, the Bavarian investor would have protected her wealth just by being invested in real assets, i.e. pencils.

Of course, if you wanted to see your wealth grow pencils wouldn’t be the best assets to be invested in, as they do not reproduce, or any other assets are taken out of them, but to protect your savings they would work just fine.

 

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Inflation and assets

During the last weekend, I spent some hours watching the webcast of the annual investors’ conference of Bestinver, a Spanish investment fund.

I find the conference itself not only entertaining and informative but quite funny due to the way the fund managers show their value investing principles and how stubborn they’re with them (luckily for investors). The experience is comparable to that of Berkshire Hathaway annual general meeting.

As in previous years the managers defended how not only to have profits but to defend your savings during recessions it is much better to be invested in real assets than to have your money in cash, state bonds, etc.

This time they raised the case of Mexico during 1979-1988 (in previous cases they had referred to the Weimar Republic or Argentina), based on an analysis by Marc Faber (a presentation containing the same info can be retrieved here, PDF 4.8MB). During those years the Mexican peso suffered an extreme hyperinflation explained in the Wikipedia as follows:

In spite of the Oil Crisis of the late 1970s (Mexico is a producer and exporter), and due to excessive social spending, Mexico defaulted on its external debt in 1982. As a result, the country suffered a severe case of capital flight and several years of hyperinflation and peso devaluation. On 1 January 1993, Mexico created a new currency, the nuevo peso (“new peso”, or MXN), which chopped 3 zeros off the old peso, an inflation rate of 10,000% over the several years of the crisis. (One new peso was equal to 1000 of the obsolete MXP pesos).

Mexican peso evolution vs USD. Source: Ron Griess

Obviously, anyyone who either held savings in cash in pesos or Mexican bonds at that time virtually lost all his money.

However, the same author made the analysis of what would have happened during those years to an individual holding Mexican stock, for which he used the Mexican Stock Exchange Index. The result is that at the end of the decade that person would have kept his wealth in US dollar terms, as the nominal value of the Mexican stocks raised at par with the hyperinflation and peso devaluation going on in the country.

Evolution of Mexican Stock. Source: Marc Faber

Conclusion: better be invested in assets if only to keep your savings safe in the long run.

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