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TheStreet Open House

Fleckenstein: All Roads Lead to Inflation

You have obviously noticed that from time to time, the price goes up and the amount of chocolate per bar changes. So what I have done is to take the price and turned it into the price of chocolate per ounce of a Hershey bar. What you can see here is that, surprise, surprise, the price of chocolate per ounce of a Hershey bar has risen over that period, and in fact is up about 12-fold. Measured thusly, the dollar has lost 92% of its purchasing power.

Interestingly enough, however, the value of Hershey's stock, since it came public in 1927, is up about 295-fold, with one share purchased at $39.58 now worth 180 shares at roughly $65 dollars. Even after adjusting for inflation, as I have calculated it, that's still a gain of 14 to 15 times in after-inflation terms. Obviously, Hershey's has been one of the rare, huge winners.

In the mania, all stocks were expected to eventually do as well "over time," as people were blinded by long-term returns of stocks like Hershey's -- though they were more interested in stocks like chocolate.com -- and completely oblivious to the risks. But folks were also completely oblivious to the No. 1 financial risk that we all face as investors/citizens, and that is inflation. In that regard, I consider the Fed to be public enemy No. 1.

Not only did guys like Greenspan, McDonough and McTeer help the Fed power the mania by making up new-era rationalizations for it, since the market peaked in March 2000, they have fomented another bubble, this one in housing prices. This has enabled consumers to continue to live beyond their means, thereby making the ultimate adjustment more protracted. Rather than taking the bubble as a warning sign and urging folks get their financial house in order, the Fed has given folks the shovel, via the housing bubble, to dig themselves deeper and deeper in the hole.

It's sort of like lending money to somebody who had a margin call, rather than making him meet the margin call, and then lowering margin requirements as well, so he can buy more. That is, in essence, what has occurred in the housing market, as many people have increased their mortgages as housing prices have gone up.

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