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Russell Napier has never been one of the eternal inflation warners. On the contrary: The market strategist and historian, who experienced the Asian Financial Crisis 25 years ago at first hand at the brokerage house CLSA in Hong Kong, wrote for years about the deflationary power of the globalised world economy.

Two years ago, the tide turned and Napier warned of a vicious return of inflation – and he hit the mark. In an in-depth conversation with The Market NZZ, which was lightly edited for clarity, he explains why most developed economies are undergoing a fundamental shift and why the system most investors have become accustomed to over the past 40 years is no longer valid.

According to Napier, financial repression will be the leitmotif for the next 15 to 20 years. But this environment will also bring opportunities for investors. «We will see a boom in capital investment and a reindustrialisation of Western economies,» says Napier. Many people will like it at first, before years of badly misallocated capital will lead to stagflation.

In summer of 2020, you predicted that inflation was coming back and that we were looking at a prolonged period of financial repression. We currently experience 8+% inflation in Europe and the US. What’s your assessment today?

My forecast is unchanged: This is structural in nature, not cyclical. We are experiencing a fundamental shift in the inner workings of most Western economies. In the past four decades, we have become used to the idea that our economies are guided by free markets. But we are in the process of moving to a system where a large part of the allocation of resources is not left to markets anymore. Mind you, I’m not talking about a command economy or about Marxism, but about an economy where the government plays a significant role in the allocation of capital. The French would call this system «dirigiste». This is nothing new, as it was the system that prevailed from 1939 to 1979. We have just forgotten how it works, because most economists are trained in free market economics, not in history.

Why is this shift happening?

The main reason is that our debt levels have simply grown too high. Total private and public sector debt in the US is at 290% of GDP. It’s at a whopping 371% in France and above 250% in many other Western economies, including Japan. The Great Recession of 2008 has already made clear to us that this level of debt was way too high.

How so?

Back in 2008, the world economy came to the brink of a deflationary debt liquidation, where the entire system was at risk crashing down. We’ve known that for years. We can’t stand normal, necessary recessions anymore without fearing a collapse of the system. So the level of debt – private and public – to GDP has to come down, and the easiest way to do that is by increasing the growth rate of nominal GDP. That was the way it was done in the decades after World War II…

The full Q&A can be read here.

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