Sunday, October 20, 2013

Brief Notes on Asia and Hard Assets in Hyperinflation

I'm adapting this brief commentary from a conversation I had today with another private investor.  We discussed the possibility of dollar devaluation as a response to America's continuing debt funding problems.  Hedging against devaluation is not difficult with a broad mix of non-dollar assets.

There's more to hard assets than gold.  Anything I consume - - food, energy, basic materials - becomes very desirable in a currency crunch.  Advanced purchases of raw materials become "secondary" stuff as additional inventory kept for future needs.

The need for hard assets as a hedge against the potential devaluation of the US dollar begs the question of where to obtain said assets.  Why buy stuff in China?  I think the renminbi is as likely to have high inflation as the US dollar.  On the other hand, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Switzerland have well-managed currencies.  China is the least transparent of the G-20 economies.  I believe all of that country's official economic statistics have been falsified for years.

My longtime readers know that I own John T. Reed's book on hyperinflation and depression.  I have implemented many of his ideas at little cost.  His free articles on inflation are worth my time.  Hedging my net worth with a hard asset component of my portfolio gives me peace of mind that I will survive a hyperinflationary depression in the US.  Consumers will have a difficult time shopping for necessities if our currency becomes worthless as a store of value.

Currencies do have value as units of trade, so the yuan may gain some temporary acceptance as a dollar alternative among China's trading partners.  The problem for those who hold yuan will be the same as for those who hold US dollars.  Inflation in China will make the yuan (renminbi outside of China) worth less in that local economy.  Malaysians, Indonesians, etc. will then dump remminbi because they want to preserve their ability to buy things locally.

The secondary effects of simultaneous US and Chinese hyperinflation on Pacific Rim economies are too complex to predict.  Countries that peg their currencies to the dollar will have to de-link immediately or follow through with their own hyperinflation.  Countries that have significant hard asset sectors - mining, energy, agribusiness, timber - and sectors that service hard assets (specifically pipelines, railroads, and barges) are hedged for a currency crisis.

I remember being in South Korea in 1999 just after the Asian currency crisis had passed.  South Koreans donated their private gold holdings to the government so its currency could regain value.  The US dollar traded at a very beneficial exchange rate for Yankees like me who spent money in the local economy.  South Korea suffered because its main sectors were automobiles, semiconductors, and shipbuilding.  Those sectors were fully exposed to export markets.  I don't want any exposure at all to dollar-denominated fixed income during US hyperinflation.  The Fed under Janet Yellen will keep is foot on the QE gas pedal.