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Monday, 6 July 2009

The impact of inflation on the man in the street.

Milton Friedman correctly stated that "inflation is always and everwhere a monetary phenomenon." Inflation can only destroy the real value of the Rand and other monetary items like the real value of home loans originally made to home buyers. As inflation destroys the real value of the original loan amount at a higher rate than provided for by the bank at the time the loan was agreed, the bank has to increase interest on the loan to recover the updated real value of the loan plus a real profit margin.

Since inflation is only a monetary phenomenon, it is impossible - by definition - for inflation to have any effect on non-monetary items. Inflation has no effect on the real value of non-monetary items.

Inflation can only destroy the real value of money (the Rand) and other monetary items. Monetary items are money (Rands) held and items with an underlying monetary nature.

Non-monetary items are all items that are not monetary items.

Non-monetary items are sub-divided in variable real value non-monetary items and constant real value non-monetary items. Variable items are non-monetary items with variable real values over time. Variable items are items like property, plant, equipment, shares, inventory, finished goods, etc.

Variable items are correctly valued by our accountants in terms of SA Gaap or IFRS at for example fair value, market value, net realizable value, present value, recoverable value, etc. There are no unresovled problems (except the current developments in fair value) with the valuation of variable items.

Constant items are non-monetary items with constant real values over time. Constant items are items like issued share capital, retained earnings, share premium, share discount, capital reserves, all other items in shareholders´ equity, trade debtors, trade creditors, deferred tax assets and deferred tax liabilities, taxes payable, taxes receivable, all items in the profit and loss account, etc.

Our accountants value constant items at Historical Cost: i.e. they do not update their real values. The reason for this is that they choose to measure financial capital maintenance in nominal monetary units in terms of the IASB´s Framework, Par. 104 (a) which states: "Financial capital maintenance can be measured either in nominal monetary units or in units of constant purchasing power."

Our accountants all choose nominal monetary units; i.e they all do their accounts based on the historical cost basis: i.e. they apply the stable measuring unit assumption. They assume that changes in the Rand´s purchasing power are not significant enough to require changes to the real values of constant items. They basically assume the Rand is perfectly stable ONLY for the valuation of the above constant items.

So what happens?

They correctly value certain income statement items in units of constant purchasing power. They thus inflation-adjust salaries, wages, rentals, etc annually like all other countries during low inflation.

BUT, when a SA company does not have revaluable property with an updated real value or hidden holding gains exactly equal to the original real value of all contributions to shareholders´ equity where they can continuously revalue the property or have sufficient holding gains to maintain shareholders´ equity´s real value, they destroy the real value of shareholders´ equity at a rate equal to the annual rate of inflation - because the Rand is the unstable unit of account in our economy - when these values are never updated or there is a lack of revaluable variable items during indefinite inflation.

It is not inflation destroying, for example R3 billion in the real value of ABSA´s retained earnings last year and the same this year. It is ABSA´s accountants valuing their retained earnings balance at historical cost because ABSA´s board of directors selected the historical cost basis for doing their accounts. ABSA´s board of directors can change their mind and select to measure financial capital maintenance in units of constant purchasing power as they can freely do in terms of the IASB´s Framework, Par. 104 (a) which is compliant with IFRS.

What will happen when ABSA do that? They will maintain about R3 billion in the real value of their retained earnings each and every year for an unlimited period of time - ceteris paribus - instead of destroying about that amount annually for an unlimited period of time - ceteris paribus - as they unknowingly and unintentionally did last year and as they unknowingly and unintentionally do this year..

What does this mean for the man in the street?

Our accountants unknowingly destroy about R200 billion annually in the SA real economy in this manner. This is a conservative estimate. When SA rejects the stable measuring unit assumption and implements finacial capital maintenance in units of constant purchasing power as provided for 20 years ago by the IASB in the Framework, Par. 104 (a) about R200 billion will be maintained in our real economy for an unlimited period of time. This is compliant with IFRS - see Par. 104 (a).

A boost of about R200 billion per annum for an unlimited period of time in the SA economy will lead to a stronger economy, more jobs, maintenance of investment capital in banks and companies, etc.

This will obviously benefit the man in the street.

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