Inflation Is Here – Just Open Up Your Eyes And Look At These 5 Financial Charts!

Despite what Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke says, rampant inflation is officially here.  The federal government is constantly monkeying with the numbers to keep the “official” rate of inflation below 2 percent, but it is becoming very difficult to deny that the cost of almost everything is really going up these days.  The American people are not stupid.  They notice the difference when they go to the grocery store or stop at the gas station.  The dollar is losing value rapidly now.  The price of gold set another new all-time record today and is currently hovering just above $1430 an ounce.  The price of West Texas crude has moved above 100 dollars several times recently and the price of Brent crude is currently above 116 dollars.  These higher oil prices are really starting to be felt in the United States.  The average price for a gallon of gasoline in the United States has now reached $3.38.  There are some gas stations in the U.S. where the price of a gallon of gas is already over 4 dollars.  But it is not just the American people that are feeling the pain.  The global price of food recently hit a new record high and almost every major agricultural commodity has absolutely skyrocketed in price over the past 12 months.  Meanwhile, Ben Bernanke just told the Senate Banking Committee that he really isn’t concerned about inflation at all.

When it comes to inflation, the key is not to look at the official U.S. government numbers (they are highly manipulated) or how the U.S. dollar is performing against other major currencies (because they are all being devalued as well).  Instead, you can get a truer sense of what is really happening to inflation by looking at what the U.S. dollar is doing against precious metals, commodities and other hard assets.

So are we experiencing rampant inflation right now?  Well, just open up your eyes and look at these 5 charts….

1 – The price of oil is racing back up to record levels.  The chart below from the Federal Reserve is a couple weeks out of date.  As noted above, the current price of West Texas crude is about $100 a barrel….

2 – The price of a gallon of gasoline in the United States seems destined to hit a brand new all-time record at some point this year.  Was it really just a few short years ago when the average price of gas in this country was about a dollar a gallon?….

3 – The value of most precious metals is very consistent over time.  So when you see precious metals go up dramatically in price, it means that the dollar is being devalued.  The price of gold just set another new all-time high and it seems destined to keep going even higher….

4 – The chart below from the Federal Reserve is a measure of the price of all commodities.  These price increases are inevitably going to be passed along to consumers in the United States….

5 – After a couple of years of stable food price, the price of food is starting to take off yet again….

In fact, many analysts are warning that we could experience a major food crisis over the next couple of years.  The global demand for food continues to grow at a very brisk pace, but all of the crazy weather we have been having around the world has caused some very bad harvests.

Unfortunately, the global price of food has gone up substantially in recent months and it is likely to keep going up very rapidly.  Just consider the following five facts….

#1 The United Nations says that the global price of food hit another new all-time high during the month of January.

#2 The price of corn has doubled in the past six months.

#3 The price of wheat has roughly doubled since the middle of 2010.

#4 According to Forbes, the price of soybeans is up about 50% since last June.

#5 The United Nations is projecting that the global price of food will increase by another 30 percent by the end of 2011.

Ouch.

But isn’t there some good economic news?

Yes, there is, but before we cover it, it is important to keep in mind that in an inflationary environment almost all economic numbers go up.

For example, during the recent hyperinflation in Zimbabwe stocks went up like crazy and “economic growth” statistics were very impressive.

Why?

Because those numbers were measured in currency units that were being devalued at a blinding pace.

So please keep that in mind when you hear “good economic statistics” on the evening news.

The truth is that in an inflationary environment such as we have now entered into almost all economic numbers should be going up.

So what is the good news?

Well, last month all three major U.S. car companies reported strong sales gains.  Sales of GM vehicles were up 49%, sales of Chrysler vehicles were up 13%, and sales of Ford vehicles were up 10%.

But just because a few pieces of good economic news come floating our way does not mean that we should forget all of the horrific long-term economic trends that are tearing this country apart.

The truth is that we are still a nation that is absolutely drowning in debt.

For example, it was just announced that China now owns 1.16 trillion dollars of U.S. government debt.

The borrower is the servant of the lender.  We should never forget that.

Also, the U.S. economy is slowly but surely becoming of less importance on the global stage.

In 1985, America’s share of global GDP was 33%.  Today, it is just 24%.

Our nation is rapidly being deindustrialized and we are becoming deeply dependent on industrial production from other nations.

Did you know that the new World Trade Center that is being constructed on the site of the September 11, 2001 attacks is going to be made from German steel and Chinese glass?

That says a lot about where we are at as a country.

We have allowed so much of our industrial infrastructure to be exported to China where workers slave away in almost unbelievable conditions.

A reader named Rish recently described what things are like over there….

As a product developer I went to china and saw the way the factory workers lived and worked in person. 50$ a month is about right, but if you are a skilled quality control expert you might make as much as 150$. at least this was true about 2 years ago the last time I went. The barracks were pretty meager, bunk beds with just plywood, no mattresses, if you wanted you could go to a store just outside the factory gate and buy a thick comforter that they sell as a “mattress” .

It will be interesting to see how the next few years changes the face of the USA. Who knows? if the unemployment rate and lack of jobs keeps going and enough people become homeless, we might become the next Bangladesh, and people will be lining up of the 30 cents an hour corporate factory jobs, and living in barracks just like those…

The only way the U.S. has been able to “thrive” during this deindustrialization is by borrowing gigantic amounts of money.  But all of this borrowing is slowly but surely destroying the U.S. dollar, and we are getting closer to the point of absolute catastrophe.

Peter Schiff recently shook folks up when he talked about these issues during a recent interview on CNBC….

But it is not just the United States that is printing tons and tons of money.  All of the major industrialized nations have been firing out gobs of currency.  That is a huge reason why so many investors have been racing to get into hard assets recently.

Now Ben Bernanke and other top Federal Reserve officials have been dropping hints that more quantitative easing may be necessary.

Unfortunately, just like with any other addiction, once you give in a few times it becomes easier and easier to engage in destructive behavior.  Now that the Fed has gotten a taste for quantitative easing it is going to be really hard to stop.

Nor can the Fed stop at this point.  If they did it would be disastrous for the U.S. economy.  But if the Fed continues on this reckless course it will make the eventual collapse of our economy even worse.

Under our current debt-based system there is no way out.  The Federal Reserve can attempt to put off the inevitable for a while by pumping up the debt bubble even more, but at some point it is going to burst.

When that happens we are going to be facing a financial crisis which will blow what happened in 2008 completely out of the water.

So enjoy these good economic times while you still can.  This is about as good as things are going to get from here on out.

Stagflation 2011: Why It Is Here And Why It Is Going To Be Very Painful

Are you ready for an economy that has high inflation and high unemployment at the same time? Well, welcome to “Stagflation 2011”.  Stagflation exists when inflation and unemployment are both at high levels at the same time.  Of course we all know about the high unemployment situation already.  Gallup’s daily tracking poll says that the U.S. unemployment rate has been hovering around 10 percent all year so far.  But now thanks to rapidly rising food prices and the exploding price of oil, rampant inflation is being added to the equation.  Normally inflation is a sign of increased economic activity, but when the basic commodities that we depend on to run our economy (such as oil) go up in price it actually causes a slowdown in economy activity.  When the price of oil goes up high enough, it fundamentally changes the behavior of individuals and businesses.  Suddenly certain types of economic activities that were feasible when oil was very cheap are not profitable any longer.  When the price of oil rises to a new level and it stays there, essentially what is happening is that more “blood” is being drained out of our economy.  Our economy will continue to function when there are higher oil prices, it will just be a lot more sluggish.

In some way, shape or form the price of oil factors into the production of most of our goods and services and it also factors into the transportation of most of our goods and services.  A significant rise in the price of oil changes the economic equation for almost every business in the United States.

Today, the price of WTI crude soared past 100 dollars a barrel before closing at $98.10.  The price of Brent crude increased 5.3 percent to $111.25.  The protests in Libya are certainly causing a lot of the price activity that we have seen over the past few days, but the truth is that oil has been going up for a number of months.  Right now we are only seeing an acceleration of the long-term trend.

Things are likely to get far worse if the “day of rage” planned for Saudi Arabia next month turns into a full-blown revolution.  Up to this point, the revolutions that have been sweeping the Middle East have been organized largely on Facebook, and now there are calls all over Facebook for the “Saudi revolution” to start on March 20th.

That date is less than 4 weeks away.  If Saudi Arabia plunges into chaos, the price of oil is going to go through the roof.

A rapidly rising price for oil is really bad news for the U.S. economy, because it is going to mean lots of inflation.  Unfortunately, this also comes at a time when the economy is also feeling the inflationary effects of more quantitative easing by the Federal Reserve.

So if rising oil prices are going to cause more inflation and if rising oil prices are also going to cause our economy to become even more sluggish, what does all of that add up to?

It adds up to stagflation.

Wikipedia defines stagflation in the following manner….

In economics, stagflation is the situation when both the inflation rate and the unemployment rate are persistently high.

This is going to rapidly become the “new normal” for America.  High oil prices are going to cause the cost of just about everything to go up, and high oil prices are also going to cause the economy to slow down thus making the unemployment numbers even worse.

It is going to be just like the 1970s all over again.

Only worse.

Economists differ as to how much rising oil prices affect U.S. GDP, but almost all of them agree that rising oil prices do cause a decline in U.S. GDP at least to some extent.

If American families have to spend $10 or $20 more each time they visit a gas station, that means that they are going to have less discretionary income.  They won’t be able to spend as much at the stores.

Not only that, but since the price of oil affects the price of almost everything else, Americans will find that their dollars have reduced purchasing power.

An oil crisis would force American families to stretch their already overburdened budgets even farther.

So where is the price of gasoline going from here?  Well, the average price of gasoline in the United States is rapidly sneaking up on the $3.20 a gallon mark.  Almost everyone believes that it is going to be going significantly higher.

Tom Kloza, the chief analyst for the Oil Price Information Service, was recently quoted in USA Today as saying that he believes that the average price for gasoline in the United States will reach somewhere between $3.50 and $3.75 a gallon by April.

As I wrote about yesterday, there are other analysts that believe that we are going to see $4.00 gasoline in the United States by the end of the year, and there are some that believe that we could see $5.00 gasoline if revolution sweeps Saudi Arabia.

If gasoline becomes that expensive and it stays there for a while, it is going to seriously start affecting the behavior of American businesses and American consumers.

Just remember what happened back in 2008.  Andrew Busch of BMO Capital Markets recently told CNBC the following….

“Remember when oil was last at $140 (a barrel), Americans reacted and cut the amount of miles they drove.”

Can you imagine what it would do to the economy if millions of Americans start sitting in their homes instead of doing their normal amounts of driving and flying?

In addition, one of the biggest problems with a higher price for oil is that it would cause our trade deficit to explode.  According to the U.S. government, more than half of the oil that we use is imported.  So every month we send the rest of the world billions and billions of our dollars and they send us massive amounts of oil.  We rapidly consume all of the oil they send us and we continually need more.  So we keep sending larger and larger amounts of money overseas and they keep sending us larger amounts of oil.  In the process, our national wealth is being drained at an astounding rate.  It is one of the greatest transfers of wealth the world has ever seen.

When the price of oil rises substantially, the transfer of wealth accelerates.  This is a very bad thing for the U.S. economy.  For example, when oil prices were above $100 a barrel back in 2008 our trade deficit for the year was almost 700 billion dollars.

It would be great if the Middle East would settle down and oil prices would start declining because that would really help out the U.S. economy.  Unfortunately, it does not look like that is going to happen.  Instead, it appears that we are steamrolling directly towards stagflation.  Anyone that lived through the stagflation of the 1970s knows that it is not a lot of fun.

The cold, hard reality of the matter is that without cheap oil our lifestyles are going to change.  Our economy was not set up to run on expensive oil.  If oil moves well above $100 a barrel and it stays there it is going to bring about significant societal changes.

For the rest of 2011, the price of oil will be the number one economic indicator to watch.  If it gets too high it is going to be an absolute disaster for the U.S. economy.

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