The World’s Most Famous Case of Hyperinflation (Part 1)
The Great War ended on the 11th hour of November 11th, 1918, when the signed armistice came into effect.
Though this peace would signal the end of the war, it would also help lead to a series of further destruction: this time the destruction of wealth and savings.
The world’s most famous hyperinflation event, which took place in Germany from 1921 and 1924, was a financial calamity that led millions of people to have their savings erased.
The Treaty of Versailles
Five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the Treaty of Versailles was signed, officially ending the state of war between Germany and the Allies.
The terms of the agreement, which were essentially forced upon Germany, made the country:
- Accept blame for the war
- Agree to pay £6.6 billion in reparations (equal to $442 billion in USD today)
- Forfeit territory in Europe as well as its colonies
- Forbid Germany to have submarines or an air force, as well as a limited army and navy
- Accept the Rhineland, a strategic area bordering France and other countries, to be fully demilitarized.
“I believe that the campaign for securing out of Germany the general costs of the war was one of the most serious acts of political unwisdom for which our statesmen have ever been responsible.”
– John Maynard Keynes, representative of the British Treasury
Keynes believed the sums being asked of Germany in reparations were many times more than it was possible for Germany to pay. He thought that this could create large amounts of instability with the global financial system.
1. Germany had suspended the Mark’s convertibility into gold at the beginning of war.
This created two separate versions of the same currency:
Goldmark: The Goldmark refers to the version on the gold standard, with 2790 Mark equal to 1 kg of pure gold. This meant: 1 USD = 4 Goldmarks, £1 = 20.43 Goldmarks
Papiermark: The Papiermark refers to the version printed on paper. These were used to finance the war.
In fear that Germany would run the printing presses, the Allies specified that reparations must be paid in the Goldmarks and raw materials of equivalent value.
2. Heavy Debt
Even before reparations, Germany was already in significant debt. The country had borrowed heavily during the war with expectations that it would be won, leaving the losers repay the loans.
Adding together previous debts with the reparations, debt exceeded Germany’s GDP.
3. Inability to Pay
The burden of payments was high. The country’s economy had been damaged by the war, and the loss of Germany’s richest farmland (West Prussia) and the Saar coalfields did not help either.
Foreign speculators began to lose confidence in Germany’s ability to pay, and started betting against the Mark.
Foreign banks and businesses expected increasingly large amounts of German money in exchange for their own currency. It became very expensive for Germany to buy food and raw materials from other countries.
Germany began mass printing bank notes to buy foreign currency, which was in turn used to pay reparations.
4. Invasion of The Ruhr
After multiple defaults on payments of coal and timber, the Reparation Commission voted to occupy Germany’s most important industrial lands (The Ruhr) to enforce the payment of reparations.
French and Belgian troops invaded in January 1923 and began The Occupation of The Ruhr.
German authorities promoted the spirit of passive resistance, and told workers to “do nothing” to help the invaders. In other words, The Ruhr was in a general strike, and income from one of Germany’s most important industrial areas was gone.
On top of that, more and more banknotes had to be printed to pay striking workers.
Just two calendar years after the end of the war, the Papiermark was worth 10% of its original value. By the end of 1923, it took 1 trillion Papiermarks to buy a single Goldmark.
All cash savings had lost their value, and the prudent German middleclass savers were inexplicably punished.
Learn about the effects of German hyperinflation, how it was curtailed, and about other famous hyperinflations in Part 2 (released sometime the week of Jan 18-22, 2016).
Cash is a scarce commodity in Greece.
In June, Greek banks declared a surprise limitation on how much could be withdrawn from an account. At present, the government still limits the cash withdrawals of Greeks.
And, of course, this is just the most recent in a series of events that make up the cash squeeze. In response, Greeks have done what all people do when they cannot get enough currency – they improvise.
“And just like that Weimar 2.0 is born.“
Last Friday, we posted what we thought was a watershed report by Australia’s largest investment bank Macquarie, one which openly called for central bank funding of fiscal spending, aka “helicopter money”, by directly monetizing treasuries. Ironically, the bank made the call despite admitting that it would not work in the long run, leading to even more stagflation and deflation. This was the gist:
As velocity of money globally continues to fall, conventional QEs have to become exponentially larger, as marginal benefit declines. If public sector is not prepared to step aside, what other measures can be introduced to support nominal GDP and avoid deflation?
In 1920 gold fell, then it soared!
– Gold/Silver Prices Under the Weimar Republic’s Inflation (Daily Paul, Dec 21, 2010):
Stole this from another article/blogger.
“On a closing note, because I forgot last week, I would like to share with everyone just how the price of silver and gold escalated in German Mark terms, through the Weimar experience:
Hyperinflation: Wiemar, Germany January 1919 to November 1923
[Expressed in German Marks needed to by an oz. of ag. or au.]”
Added: Jun 29, 2014
Chris Martenson, who holds a PhD in pathology and an MBA, contends 2008 was just a warm up to a much bigger calamity. Martenson says, “2008 was the shot across the bow, and that’s when our credit experiment broke, and we have been doing everything possible to paper over it since. . . . When you take real stuff out of the ground, you grow food, you take oil out of the ground, you process ore into steel, and you manufacture real things–that’s real wealth. The claims (such as stocks, bonds and currencies) have to be in proportion to the real wealth, and the claims have been growing and growing and growing for so long that they are way out of balance to the real stuff, and the real stuff isn’t growing like it used to. You can see that in the GDP numbers for the U.S. or the world at large. Growth is slowing, slowing, slowing, and the claims are getting larger and larger. This represents a huge and gigantic source of potential energy. There is a gap there and it’s going to get closed. Only one of two things are going to happen: (1) real stuff starts expanding like crazy, or (2) the claims get destroyed. That’s what we are talking about when we talk about a market crash. The claims get destroyed. People get wiped out. The people who don’t get ruined are people safely over in the real wealth already. If you own an unencumbered farm, if you own a productive asset, if you own gold or silver, or if you own your house outright, you are going to be vastly safer than . . . someone who is leveraged and hinged into this other system.”
Join Greg Hunter as he goes One-on-One with Chris Martenson co-founder of PeakProsperity.com.
– Quantitative Easing Worked For The Weimar Republic For A Little While Too (Economic Collapse, Sep 22, 2013):
There is a reason why every fiat currency in the history of the world has eventually failed. At some point, those issuing fiat currencies always find themselves giving in to the temptation to wildly print more money. Sometimes, the motivation for doing this is good. When an economy is really struggling, those that have been entrusted with the management of that economy can easily fall for the lie that things would be better if people just had “more money”. Today, the Federal Reserve finds itself faced with a scenario that is very similar to what the Weimar Republic was facing nearly 100 years ago. Like the Weimar Republic, the U.S. economy is also struggling and like the Weimar Republic, the U.S. government is absolutely drowning in debt. Unfortunately, the Federal Reserve has decided to adopt the same solution that the Weimar Republic chose. The Federal Reserve is recklessly printing money out of thin air, and in the short-term some positive things have come out of it. But quantitative easing worked for the Weimar Republic for a little while too. At first, more money caused economic activity to increase and unemployment was low. But all of that money printing destroyed faith in German currency and in the German financial system and ultimately Germany experienced an economic meltdown that the world is still talking about today. This is the path that the Federal Reserve is taking America down, but most Americans have absolutely no idea what is happening.
It is really easy to start printing money, but it is incredibly hard to stop. Like any addict, the Fed is promising that they can quit at any time, but this month they refused to even start tapering their money printing a little bit. The behavior of the Fed is so shameful that even CNBC is comparing it to a drug addict at this point:
– Federal Reserve Money Printing Is The Real Reason Why The Stock Market Is Soaring (Economic Collapse, Jan 28, 2013):
You can thank the reckless money printing that the Federal Reserve has been doing for the incredible bull market that we have seen in recent months. When the Federal Reserve does more “quantitative easing”, it is the financial markets that benefit the most. The Dow and the S&P 500 have both hit levels not seen since 2007 this month, and many analysts are projecting that 2013 will be a banner year for stocks. But is a rising stock market really a sign that the overall economy is rapidly improving as many are suggesting? Of course not. Just because the Federal Reserve has inflated another false stock market bubble with a bunch of funny money does not mean that the U.S. economy is in great shape. In fact, the truth is that things just keep getting worse for average Americans. The percentage of working age Americans with a job has fallen from 60.6% to 58.6% while Barack Obama has been president, 40 percent of all American workers are making $20,000 a year or less, median household income has declined for four years in a row, and poverty in the United States is absolutely exploding. So quantitative easing has definitely not made things better for the middle class. But all of the money printing that the Fed has been doing has worked out wonderfully for Wall Street. Profits are soaring at Goldman Sachs and luxury estates in the Hamptons are selling briskly. Unfortunately, this is how things work in America these days. Our “leaders” seem far more concerned with the welfare of Wall Street than they do about the welfare of the American people.
– The Germans don’t trust Obama with their gold – and can you blame them? (Telegraph, Jan 18, 2013):
Back in the mid-1920s, the head of the German Central Bank, Herr Hjalmar Schacht, went to New York to see Germany’s gold. However the NY Fed officials were unable to find the palette of Germany’s gold bullion. The Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Benjamin Strong was mortified, but to put him at ease Herr Schacht turned to him and said ‘Never mind, I believe you when you when you say the gold is there. Even if it weren’t you are good for its replacement.’ (H/T The Real Asset Company)
But that was then and this is now. In the eyes of the Germans – and who can blame them? – America has lost its mojo to such a degree that it can no longer be trusted honour its debts, even in the unlikely event that it were financially capable of doing so. Which is why, following in the footsteps of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez (who may be an idiot but is definitely no fool), Germany is repatriatriating its gold from the US federal reserve. It will now be stored in Frankfurt.
This is an important story. One of the most spectacular con tricks of the last twelve months, pulled off by our political class with the connivance of much of the media, is that we’ve escaped the global economic armageddon which looked till quite recently as if it was going to engulf us. The Euro didn’t collapse; Europe isn’t in flames; QE hasn’t led to Weimar-style hyperinflation; the fiscal cliff has been dodged; Britain hasn’t yet lost its triple A credit rating; the bond markets haven’t gone postal…
Well it may look calm on the surface, but this latest move by the Bundesbank gives us a pretty good indication that beneath the surface that serene-seeming swan is paddling for dear life.
If you want a full analysis I recommend this excellent summary by Jan Skoyles. The scary part is this bit:
– Cashin Remembers Germany’s Hyperinflation Birthday (ZeroHedge, Oct 11, 2012):
Via Art Cashin of UBS,Originally, on this day in 1922, the German Central Bank and the German Treasury took an inevitable step in a process which had begun with their previous effort to “jump start” a stagnant economy. Many months earlier they had decided that what was needed was easier money. Their initial efforts brought little response. So, using the governmental “more is better” theory they simply created more and more money. But economic stagnation continued and so did the money growth. They kept making money more available. No reaction. Then, suddenly prices began to explode unbelievably (but, perversely, not business activity).
– Next Stop: Dow 100,000 (ZeroHedge, May 15, 2012):
We thought that Jeremy Siegel, Laszlo “the Ruler” Birinyi and Jim Altucher were optimistic with their stock market targets. Sadly, with their equal to or less than 20,000 Dow Jones predictions, the three merely come off as rank amateurs, especially when compared to the forecast of BNP’s head of fixed income Philippe Gijesels, who sees the stock market at 100,000 at some point over the next 25 years. However, unlike the previous trio who bases its forecasts on misguided expectations of economic growth, Gijesels may actually end up being right, because his estimate is predicated on one simple thing: hyperinflation, or specifically 12.2% inflation each year, which for a country like America is tantamount to the dreaded H-word. The other premise used by Gijesels: too much debt which has to be inflated. And actually, he is spot on. The only problem is that when the Dow hits 100,000 due to money printing, which is his underlying thesis, one will needed scientific notation to express the price of any hard asset (and most certainly gold), because if America falls in a two-decade long Weimar republic phase, the Dow may well be 100,000 or 100 googol – the truth is it won’t matter as the money this number translated to would be absolutely meaningless. Just ask the Weimar Germans, who may have had some tremendous monthly increases in their 401(k) statements, but all they really cared about is whether they had the latest and most fashionable wheelbarrow model.