This is what the European Central Bank describes as its objective on the relevant EU site:
‘The primary objective of the ECB’s monetary policy is to maintain price stability’
However, since the ECB came into influential being at the outset of EMU (European Monetary Union) it has achieved anything but that. On the chart below – handily provided by the ECB itself – we can see that before the euro was born, price inflation drifted down nicely from a high of 5% inflation in 1992 to 0.8% as 1999 dawned. By then, of course, pretty much everyone knew a new currency was coming. And so almost everywhere – for example, in Spain, Italy and Greece, where the currency units were smallest – a bit of inflation jiggery-pokery went on in anticipation of nobody really noticing price increases…reaching a peak of 3% in 2002.
The credit-crunch shock in 2008 produced a short period of dramatic deflation, immediately after which inflation zoomed up again to reach the same peak at 3% last year. I’ve ringed the low and high points of this last period at the right-hand end of the graph below, because they record easily the steepest inflationary climb in the common currency’s brief history.
Apart from the fact that comparing prices before EMU to afterwards reveals a steady approach to near-zero inflation being replaced by a financial St Vitus Dance – well then, thank goodness for the euro – the graphic above reveals a meteoric rise from 0.5% deflation to 3% inflation since the debt crisis started.
None of this inflation is down to retailer profiteering and wage demands: the eurozone (especially the southern end of it) has seen real falls in income and retail turnover throughout the last period. What we have here is issuer inflation: money-printing by stealth. Money-supply has increased as a result of trying to protect banks – and increase the liquidity that banks themselves were too self-protective to provide.
Just another blogsite conspiracy assertion? Far from it. Go to the statistics on banknotes in circulation, and you will spot two undeniably bad signs:
1. The amount of euros in circulation rose by 2.4% in December 2011 alone. If that trend continues in 2012, the currency will have been devalued by 29% at the close of 2012.
2. By far the biggest rise was in medium-to-large denomination (50 euro notes) during that period. Both massive printing of small and high denomination notes would be instantly noticeable: the ECB has opted, as you’d expect, for the middle-rankers.
So: more money, and more bigger money – if you’ll pardon the bad grammar. This is what Berlin fears, and why – even if for the time being Draghi and Merkel are on the same side when it comes to giving the markets a good hard slap – the first German journalist worth his or her salt to get a handle on this is going to blow the whistle big-time in the Bundesrepublik.
Forget long-term trends: what’s happening now as the authorities panic is all that counts. Far too many sites declare ‘the money-printing has begun’. But these stats show beyond any shadow of a doubt that it is well under way.