Inflation Boogeyman Is Becoming Germany’s Worst Nightmare

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By David Henry

War, terrorism, disease, poverty, death. For most people, these concepts cause a great deal of angst. For Germans, it's inflation that's the most troubling.

Rising consumer prices emerged as the biggest worry for 63 percent of Germans in surveys cited yesterday by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper. Inflation beat out serious illness (53 percent), lower living standards in old age (40 percent) and terrorism (39 percent). There aren't many living Germans who remember the hyperinflation of the 1920s during the Weimar Republic, so the fear is mostly a response to the recent acts of central bankers.

The European Central Bank is now doing the job of politicians in order to save the euro. Its intention is only to buy some time for governments to implement the reforms needed to win the confidence of the bond market and of fellow euro-area members. But the printing press and asset-purchase programs are likely to remove the incentive for change and are causing the average citizen to take refuge in tangible assets as the currency loses purchasing power. The stock market, the gold price and real-estate values are showing signs of forthcoming bubbles.

ECB President Mario Draghi's bond-purchase plan, unveiled on Sept. 6, comes with strict conditions for recipient states. It may now be bringing the euro crisis to a head as countries such as Spain balk at applying for bailouts, aware that such a move would involve surrendering partial sovereignty. This may shield the euro area from an outbreak of inflation as nations snub further aid and ECB bond purchases in the name of economic self-determination.

The ECB's new building in Frankfurt is now under construction. The project's cost has grown to about 1.2 billion euros ($1.6 billion) from the originally planned 850 million euros, mainly due to inflation. For an institution mandated to ensure price stability, the ECB is giving Germans good reason to lose sleep.

(David Henry is a Frankfurt-based editor for Bloomberg View.)

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-0- Sep/24/2012 14:46 GMT