Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Hyperinflation: The winners and losers

Voltron says: Der Spiegel has an article describing the German hyperinflation of the 20s (Hat tip to "Jeep"). I think the major trigger was foreign denominated debt (in that case, war reparations). It's interesting to note who the winners and losers were.


The stupid ones were those who had nest eggs: the thrifty, holders of government bonds, but primarily the country's pensioners. In other words, those who received money without having to work for it, who lived on their pensions or the interest on their savings. Large sections of the middle classes saw themselves stripped of their assets, losing almost everything they had set aside for years. Banks, savings banks, and insurance companies suffered huge losses and were left with nothing but their paper money. As a result, they had to start the majority of their businesses from scratch in 1924.

By perverse contrast, the winners of the hyperinflation were those with massive debts; first and foremost the state, but also private individuals who had borrowed money to buy houses, construction land or farmland, and whose loans were slashed by the switch to the rentenmark.

Some industrialists made huge gains from the period of hyperinflation. Hugo Stinnes, whom Time magazine crowned "Germany's new Kaiser," built up an immense corporate empire comprising heavy industry, newspapers, ships and hotels -- all based on a mountain of debt. As late as the summer of 1922, Stinnes was recommending that people continue capitalizing on "the weapon of inflation." Indeed manufacturers and craftsmen in general profited from the crisis since they possessed plants and buildings -- that is, tangible assets that outlived the currency switch.

Most farmers also did extremely well. "They had money to burn, and spent it willy-nilly," writer Lion Feuchtwanger recalled. Some bought themselves entire stables of racehorses, others expensive cars. "Farmer Greindlberger drove from the grimy village street of Englschalking to Munich in an elegant limousine complete with a liveried chauffeur, while he himself was dressed in a brown velvet jacket and a green chamois-tufted hat," Feuchtwanger wrote of the rural rich.

Never before had Germany witnessed such a fundamental redistribution of wealth, and many of the winners were those who had previously been wealthy.

The rest of the article is here: http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,641758,00.html


Danl said...

The re-distribution of wealth is only an issue to those who store their wealth in the currency of the problem country. I believe people who own Stocks/Gold/Durable goods are fine as you'd expect the prices of those items to increase at the same rate of inflation. The losers are those who have wealth tied up in Cash / CD's etc. Interesting idea though of running up a lot of debt in anticipation of inflation, pretty risky if you're timeframe is wrong though.

Gerard said...

Running up debt (including buying a house) is like being short bonds. Fixed interest rates are so low that it's not that critical to get the timing right.

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