Why Deflation

The Primary Precondition of Deflation

The following was adapted from Bob Prechter’s 2002 New York Times and Amazon best seller, Conquer the Crash  You Can Survive and Prosper in a Deflationary Depression.

Deflation requires a precondition: a major societal buildup in the extension of credit (and its flip side, the assumption of debt). Austrian economists Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek warned of the consequences of credit expansion, as have a handful of other economists, who today are mostly ignored. Bank credit and Elliott wave expert Hamilton Bolton, in a 1957 letter, summarized his observations this way:

In reading a history of major depressions in the U.S. from 1830 on, I was impressed with the following:

(a) All were set off by a deflation of excess credit. This was the one factor in common.
(b) Sometimes the excess-of-credit situation seemed to last years before the bubble broke.
(c) Some outside event, such as a major failure, brought the thing to a head, but the signs were visible many months, and in some cases years, in advance.
(d) None was ever quite like the last, so that the public was always fooled thereby.
(e) Some panics occurred under great government surpluses of revenue (1837, for instance) and some under great government deficits.
(f) Credit is credit, whether non-self-liquidating or self-liquidating.
(g) Deflation of non-self-liquidating credit usually produces the greater slumps.

Self-liquidating credit is a loan that is paid back, with interest, in a moderately short time from production. Production facilitated by the loan – for business start-up or expansion, for example – generates the financial return that makes repayment possible. The full transaction adds value to the economy.

Non-self-liquidating credit is a loan that is not tied to production and tends to stay in the system. When financial institutions lend for consumer purchases such as cars, boats or homes, or for speculations such as the purchase of stock certificates, no production effort is tied to the loan. Interest payments on such loans stress some other source of income. Contrary to nearly ubiquitous belief, such lending is almost always counter-productive; it adds costs to the economy, not value. If someone needs a cheap car to get to work, then a loan to buy it adds value to the economy; if someone wants a new SUV to consume, then a loan to buy it does not add value to the economy. Advocates claim that such loans “stimulate production,” but they ignore the cost of the required debt service, which burdens production. They also ignore the subtle deterioration in the quality of spending choices due to the shift of buying power from people who have demonstrated a superior ability to invest or produce (creditors) to those who have demonstrated primarily a superior ability to consume (debtors).

Near the end of a major expansion, few creditors expect default, which is why they lend freely to weak borrowers. Few borrowers expect their fortunes to change, which is why they borrow freely. Deflation involves a substantial amount of involuntary debt liquidation because almost no one expects deflation before it starts.

For more on deflation, including the following topics, see Elliott Wave International’s free guide to deflation, inflation, money, credit and debt. There, you can also download two free chapters from Conquer the Crash.

Learn more about these six important topics:

1. What is Deflation and When Does it Occur?
2. Price Effects of Inflation and Deflation
3. The Primary Precondition of Deflation
4. What Triggers the Change to Deflation?
5. Why Deflationary Crashes and Depressions Go Together
6. Financial Values Can Disappear in Deflation

Robert Prechter, Chartered Market Technician, is the world’s foremost expert on and proponent of the deflationary scenario. Prechter is the founder and CEO of Elliott Wave International, author of Wall Street best-sellers Conquer the Crash and Elliott Wave Principle and editor of The Elliott Wave Theorist monthly market letter since 1979

Is the World Finally Ready to Accept the Deflationary Scenario?

This article is part of a syndicated series about deflation from market analyst Robert Prechter, the world’s foremost expert on and proponent of the deflationary scenario. For more on deflation and how you can survive it, download Prechter’s FREE 60-page Deflation Survival Guide now.

The following article was adapted from Robert Prechter’s 2002 New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Amazon best-seller, Conquer the Crash  You Can Survive and Prosper in a Deflationary Depression.

By Robert Prechter, CMT

Seventy years of nearly continuous inflation have made most people utterly confident of its permanence. If the majority of economists have any monetary fear at all, it is fear of inflation, which is the opposite of deflation.

As for the very idea of deflation, one economist a few years ago told a national newspaper that deflation had a “1 in 10,000” chance of occurring. The Chairman of Carnegie Mellon’s business school calls the notion of deflation “utter nonsense.” A professor of economics at Pepperdine University states flatly, “Rising stock prices will inevitably lead to rising prices in the rest of the economy.” The publication of an economic think-tank insists, “Anyone who asserts that deflation is imminent or already underway ignores the rationale for fiat currency — that is, to facilitate the manipulation of economic activity.” A financial writer explains, “Deflation is totally a function of the Federal Reserve’s management of monetary policy. It has nothing to do with the business cycle, productivity, taxes, booms and busts or anything else.” Concurring, an adviser writes in a national magazine, “U.S. deflation would be simple to stop today. The Federal Reserve could just print more money, ending the price slide in its tracks.” Yet another sneers, “Get real,” and likens anyone concerned about deflation to “small children.” One maverick economist whose model accommodates deflation and who actually expects a period of deflation is nevertheless convinced that it will be a “good deflation” and “nothing to fear.” On financial television, another analyst (who apparently defines deflation as falling prices) quips, “Don’t worry about deflation. All it does is pad profits.” A banker calls any episode of falling oil prices “a positive catalyst [that] will put more money in consumers’ pockets. It will benefit companies that are powered by energy and oil, and it will benefit the overall economy.” Others excitedly welcome recently falling commodity prices as an economic stimulus “equivalent to a massive tax cut.” A national business magazine guarantees, “That’s not deflation ahead, just slower inflation. Put your deflation worries away.” The senior economist with Deutsche Bank in New York estimates, “The chance of deflation is at most one in 50” (apparently up from the 1 in 10,000 of a couple of years ago). The President of the San Francisco Fed says, “The idea that we are launching into a prolonged period of declining prices I don’t think has substance.” A former government economist jokes that deflation is “57th on my list of worries, right after the 56th — fear of being eaten by piranhas.” These comments about deflation represent entrenched professional opinion.

As you can see, anyone challenging virtually the entire army of financial and economic thinkers, from academic to professional, from liberal to conservative, from Keynesian socialist to Objectivist free-market, from Monetarist technocratic even to many vocal proponents of the Austrian school, must respond to their belief that inflation is virtually inevitable and deflation impossible.

For more on deflation, download Prechter’s FREE 60-page Deflation Survival eBook or browse various deflation topics like those below atwww.elliottwave.com/deflation.

10 Things You Should and Should Not Do During Deflation

This article is part of a syndicated series about deflation from market analyst Robert Prechter, the world’s foremost expert on and proponent of the deflationary scenario. For more on deflation and how you can survive it, download Prechter’s FREE 60-page Deflation Survival eBook, part of Prechter’s NEW Deflation Survival Guide.

The following article was adapted from Robert Prechter’s NEW Deflation Survival eBook, a free 60-page compilation of Prechter’s most important teachings and warnings about deflation.

By Robert Prechter, CMT

1) Should you invest in real estate?

Short Answer: NO

Long Answer: The worst thing about real estate is its lack of liquidity during a bear market. At least in the stock market, when your stock is down 60 percent and you realize you’ve made a horrendous mistake, you can call your broker and get out (unless you’re a mutual fund, insurance company or other institution with millions of shares, in which case, you’re stuck). With real estate, you can’t pick up the phone and sell. You need to find a buyer for your house in order to sell it. In a depression, buyers just go away. Mom and Pop move in with the kids, or the kids move in with Mom and Pop. People start living in their offices or moving their offices into their living quarters. Businesses close down. In time, there is a massive glut of real estate.

Conquer the Crash, Chapter 16

2) Should you prepare for a change in politics?

Short Answer: YES

Long Answer: At some point during a financial crisis, money flows typically become a political issue. You should keep a sharp eye on political trends in your home country. In severe economic times, governments have been known to ban foreign investment, demand capital repatriation, outlaw money transfers abroad, close banks, freeze bank accounts, restrict or seize private pensions, raise taxes, fix prices and impose currency exchange values. They have been known to use force to change the course of who gets hurt and who is spared, which means that the prudent are punished and the thriftless are rewarded, reversing the result from what it would be according to who deserves to be spared or get hurt. In extreme cases, such as when authoritarians assume power, they simply appropriate or take de facto control of your property.
You cannot anticipate every possible law, regulation or political event that will be implemented to thwart your attempt at safety, liquidity and solvency. This is why you must plan ahead and pay attention. As you do, think about these issues so that when political forces troll for victims, you are legally outside the scope of the dragnet.

Conquer the Crash, Chapter 27

3) Should you invest in commercial bonds?

Short Answer: NO

Long Answer: If there is one bit of conventional wisdom that we hear repeatedly with respect to investing for a deflationary depression, it is that long-term bonds are the best possible investment. This assertion is wrong. Any bond issued by a borrower who cannot pay goes to zero in a depression. In the Great Depression, bonds of many companies, municipalities and foreign governments were crushed. They became wallpaper as their issuers went bankrupt and defaulted. Bonds of suspect issuers also went way down, at least for a time. Understand that in a crash, no one knows its depth, and almost everyone becomes afraid. That makes investors sell bonds of any issuers that they fear could default. Even when people trust the bonds they own, they are sometimes forced to sell them to raise cash to live on. For this reason, even the safest bonds can go down, at least temporarily, as AAA bonds did in 1931 and 1932.

Conquer the Crash, Chapter 15

4) Should you take precautions if you run a business?

Short Answer: YES

Long Answer: Avoid long-term employment contracts with employees. Try to locate in a state with “at-will” employment laws. Red tape and legal impediments to firing could bankrupt your company in a financial crunch, thus putting everyone in your company out of work.

If you run a business that normally carries a large business inventory (such as an auto or boat dealership), try to reduce it. If your business requires certain manufactured specialty items that may be hard to obtain in a depression, stock up.

If you are an employer, start making plans for what you will do if the company’s cash flow declines and you have to cut expenditures. Would it be best to fire certain people? Would it be better to adjust all salaries downward an equal percentage so that you can keep everyone employed?

Finally, plan how you will take advantage of the next major bottom in the economy. Positioning your company properly at that time could ensure success for decades to come.

Conquer the Crash, Chapter 30

5) Should you invest in collectibles?

Short Answer: NO

Long Answer: Collecting for investment purposes is almost always foolish. Never buy anything marketed as a collectible. The chances of losing money when collectibility is priced into an item are huge. Usually, collecting trends are fads. They might be short-run or long-run fads, but they eventually dissolve.

Conquer the Crash, Chapter 17

6) Should you do anything with respect to your employment?

Short Answer: YES

Long Answer: If you have no special reason to believe that the company you work for will prosper so much in a contracting economy that its stock will rise in a bear market, then cash out any stock or stock options that your company has issued to you (or that you bought on your own).

If your remuneration is tied to the same company’s fortunes in the form of stock or stock options, try to convert it to a liquid income stream. Make sure you get paid actual money for your labor.

If you have a choice of employment, try to think about which job will best weather the coming financial and economic storm. Then go get it.

Conquer the Crash, Chapter 31

7) Should you speculate in stocks?

Short Answer: NO

Long Answer: Perhaps the number one precaution to take at the start of a deflationary crash is to make sure that your investment capital is not invested “long” in stocks, stock mutual funds, stock index futures, stock options or any other equity-based investment or speculation. That advice alone should be worth the time you [spend to read Conquer the Crash].

In 2000 and 2001, countless Internet stocks fell from $50 or $100 a share to near zero in a matter of months. In 2001, Enron went from $85 to pennies a share in less than a year. These are the early casualties of debt, leverage and incautious speculation.

Conquer the Crash, Chapter 20

8) Should you call in loans and pay off your debt?

Short Answer: YES

Long Answer: Have you lent money to friends, relatives or co-workers? The odds of collecting any of these debts are usually slim to none, but if you can prod your personal debtors into paying you back before they get further strapped for cash, it will not only help you but it will also give you some additional wherewithal to help those very same people if they become destitute later.

If at all possible, remain or become debt-free. Being debt-free means that you are freer, period. You don’t have to sweat credit card payments. You don’t have to sweat home or auto repossession or loss of your business. You don’t have to work 6 percent more, or 10 percent more, or 18 percent more just to stay even.

Conquer the Crash, Chapter 29

9) Should you invest in commodities, such as crude oil?

Short Answer: Mostly NO

Long Answer: Pay particular attention to what happened in 1929-1932, the three years of intense deflation in which the stock market crashed. As you can see, commodities crashed, too.

You can get rich being short commodity futures in a deflationary crash. This is a player’s game, though, and I am not about to urge a typical investor to follow that course. If you are a seasoned commodity trader, avoid the long side and use rallies to sell short. Make sure that your broker keeps your liquid funds in T-bills or an equally safe medium.

There can be exceptions to the broad trend. A commodity can rise against the trend on a war, a war scare, a shortage or a disruption of transport. Oil is an example of a commodity with that type of risk. This commodity should have nowhere to go but down during a depression.

Conquer the Crash, Chapter 21

10) Should you invest in cash?

Short Answer: YES

Long Answer: For those among the public who have recently become concerned that being fully invested in one stock or stock fund is not risk-free, the analysts’ battle cry is “diversification.” They recommend having your assets spread out in numerous different stocks, numerous different stock funds and/or numerous different (foreign) stock markets. Advocates of junk bonds likewise counsel prospective investors that having lots of different issues will reduce risk.

This “strategy” is bogus. Why invest in anything unless you have a strong opinion about where it’s going and a game plan for when to get out? Diversification is gospel today because investment assets of so many kinds have gone up for so long, but the future is another matter. Owning an array of investments is financial suicide during deflation. They all go down, and the logistics of getting out of them can be a nightmare. There can be weird exceptions to this rule, such as gold in the early 1930s when the government fixed the price, or perhaps some commodity that is crucial in a war, but otherwise, all assets go down in price during deflation except one: cash.

Conquer the Crash, Chapter 18


For more on deflation, download Prechter’s FREE 60-page Deflation Survival eBook or browse various deflation topics like those below atwww.elliottwave.com/deflation.


Robert Prechter, Chartered Market Technician, is the founder and CEO of Elliott Wave International, author of Wall Street best-sellers Conquer the Crashand Elliott Wave Principle and editor of The Elliott Wave Theorist monthly market letter since 1979.