Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Brace yourselves for hyperinflation

Last night at a CBI dinner the governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, used the words, "[The MPC] may need to move beyond the conventional instrument of Bank rate and consider a range of unconventional measures." I imagine this is a coded reference to printing money - as do most commentators.

(The supine BBC failed to report these words, on its website at least, for several hours. Sky and the newspapers had no such inhibitions.)

It should be self-evident that when more money is created from nothing the existing money loses value to a commensurate degree. Money losing value is known as "inflation".

However there are considerable deflationary pressures in the economy at the moment: the oil price has fallen, house prices are falling, commodity prices generally are falling, and unemployment is rising. These all force down inflation so the devaluing effect of printing money, although inevitable, will be postponed until the deflation has left the system. The government will be counting on this lag to get away with their money printing at least long enough to get them past the next election.

However, although the macro-economic effects may not materialise immediately, investors' and savers' sentiment is likely to change rapidly; sterling is now an unsafe store of value. Anyone with sterling savings should probably be considering moving them to a stronger currency or more tangible asset.

The High Street banks offer foreign currency accounts, and if you keep a certain balance some banks don't charge a fee. Others, eg HSBC, charge quite substantially and are best avoided.

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