Saturday, May 11, 2013

Rising tides of currencies globally cause inflation, money worthless!

A PACKET of nasi lemak (rice cooked in coconut milk) with a fried egg costs around RM2 nowadays. I remember getting a similar packet (and in bigger portion) at RM1 ten years ago. It is a 100% price appreciation in ten years! My friends and I were jokingly saying that nasi lemak would be a good investment tool if it can be kept for ten years.

However, all of us know that nasi lemak is best served when it is fresh. It can never be kept for long despite its potential for value appreciation. In fact, its value will drop to zero as soon as it turns stale. And interestingly, the same situation applies to the money we hold today. Our currency can be as “perishable” as nasi lemak in this global money printing era if money is not produced for the right purpose and use in the right way and the right time.

The global economies have been embarking on expansionary monetary policies since the financial crisis broke out in 2008. Central banks around the world are printing money to support their economies and increase exports, with the United States as the primary instigator.


The Mighty Dollar

Since 2008, the Fed initiated several rounds of measure termed “Quantitative Easing”, which is literally known as an act of money printing. The Fed's balance sheet was about US$700bil (RM2.1 trillion) when the global financial crisis began; now it has more than tripled. With several countries' central banks including the European Central bank, the Bank of Japan and the Bank of England taking similar expansionary measures and encouraging lending, more than US$10 trillion (RM30.3 trillion) has been poured into the global economy since the crisis began.

While the global central banks have become addicted to open-ended easing and competed to weaken their currencies to boost economies, the impact of these measures to the global economy is not quantifiable or realised yet. However, basic economic theory tells us that when there is too much money chasing limited goods in the market, it will eventually spark inflation.

When money is created out of thin air, there is no fundamental support to the new money pumped into the economies. More money supply would only be good if the productivity is going up or in the other sense, when more products and value-added services are created. In the absence of good productivity, more and more money would not make people richer. Instead, it would only decrease the purchasing value of the printed notes.

Let's imagine a more simplified situation. For example, we used to purchase an apple for RM1. If the money supply doubled but the amount of apples available in the market remains, one apple will now costs us RM2 instead of RM1. Now, our money has halved its original value. If the central banks of the key economies keep flooding the global markets by printing more money, the scenario can only lead to the worst, i.e. hyperinflation.

This occurred in Germany after the First World War. Hyperinflation happened as the Weimar government printed banknotes in great quantities to pay for its war reparation. The value of the German banknote then fell since it was not supported in equal or greater terms by the country's production.

Flood of money

The sudden flood of money followed by a massive workers' strike, drove prices out of control. A loaf of bread which cost 250 marks in January 1923 jumped to 200 billion marks in November 1923. People collected wages with suitcases. Thieves would rather steal the suitcase instead of the money, and it was cheaper to light fire with money than with newspaper. The German currency was practically worthless during the hyperinflation period.

That scenario may seem incredible in today's context. Nevertheless, we should not downplay the severity of a global inflation should the current synchronised money printing push the economies of major countries to burst like a balloon in sequence.

When this scenario happens, people with savings and fixed income will likely be the hardest hit. To withstand the tide of inflation, the best defence is to invest in assets such as publicly traded shares, metal commodities like gold and silver and properties that can hedge against inflation.

Investing in any assets require in-depth research before embarking on one. Commodities and stock markets are liquid assets that can be bought and sold with relative ease, while properties are favoured as long-term investment.

With Malaysia's current economic and population growth, added with its still comparatively low property prices in the region, our primary and secondary market properties are good investment assets for investors to gain from the continuous capital appreciation that this industry is enjoying.

With the above as a backdrop, are property prices really going up globally?

Using the nasi lemak analogy, if we were to buy a RM100,000 medium-cost apartment 10 years ago, it would be equivalent to 100,000 packets of nasi lemak. Assuming it has doubled in price today, it would still be the equivalent of 100,000 packets of nasi lemak at RM2 today. It would seem to me that the true value of properties hasn't gone up, but that global currencies have just gotten cheaper.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT
By DATUK ALAN TONG

FIABCI Asia Pacific chairman Datuk Alan Tong has over 50 years of experience in property development.

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