In economics, hyperinflation is inflation that is very high or "out of control". While the real values of the specific economic items generally stay the same in terms of relatively stable foreign currencies, in hyperinflationary conditions the general price level within a specific economy increases rapidly as the functional or internal currency, as opposed to a foreign currency, loses its real value very quickly, normally at an accelerating rate. Definitions used vary from the International Accounting Standards Board's a cumulative inflation rate over three years approaching 100% (26% per annum compounded for three years in a row) to Cagan's (1956) "inflation exceeding 50% a month." As a rule of thumb, normal monthly and annual low inflation and deflation are reported per month, while under hyperinflation the general price level could rise by 5 or 10% or even much more every day.
A vicious circle is created in which more and more inflation is created with each iteration of the ever increasing money printing cycle.
Hyperinflation becomes visible when there is an unchecked increase in the money supply (see hyperinflation in Zimbabwe) usually accompanied by a widespread unwillingness on the part of the local population to hold the hyperinflationary money for more than the time needed to trade it for something non-monetary to avoid further loss of real value. Hyperinflation is often associated with wars (or their aftermath), currency meltdowns like in Zimbabwe, and political or social upheavals, plus an aggressive bidding against the money on currency exchanges.
These are the five biggest hyperinflations in world history:
1. Hungary (July 1946)
The 100 million b.-pengő note (photo)
Hungary went through the worst inflation ever recorded between the end of 1945 and July 1946. In 1944, the highest denomination was 1,000 pengő. By the end of 1945, it was 10,000,000 pengő. The highest denomination in mid-1946 was 100,000,000,000,000,000,000 pengő. A special currency the adópengő - or tax pengő - was created for tax and postal payments. The value of the adópengő was adjusted each day, by radio announcement. On 1 January 1946 one adópengő equaled one pengő. By late July, one adópengő equaled 2,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 or 2×1021 pengő. When the pengő was replaced in August 1946 by the forint, the total value of all Hungarian banknotes in circulation amounted to one-thousandth of one US dollar. It is the most severe known incident of inflation recorded, peaking at 1.3 × 1016 percent per month (prices double every 15 hours). The overall impact of hyperinflation: On 18 August 1946, 400,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 or 4×1029 (four hundred octillion (short scale)) pengő became 1 forint.
- One source states that this hyperinflation was purposely started by trained Russian Marxists in order to destroy the Hungarian middle and upper classes. The 1946 currency reform changed the currency to the forint.
- Earlier, between 1922 and 1924, inflation in Hungary had reached 98% per month.
2. Zimbabwe (November 2008)
This is an image of the $100 trillion banknote of Zimbabwe.
Hyperinflation in Zimbabwe began in the early 2000s, shortly after Zimbabwe's confiscation of white-owned farmland and its repudiation of debts to the International Monetary Fund, and persisted through to 2009. Figures from November 2008 estimated Zimbabwe's annual inflation rate at 89.7 sextillion (1021) percent. By December 2008, annual inflation was estimated at 6.5 quindecillion novemdecillion percent (6.5 x 10108%, the equivalent of 6 quinquatrigintillion 500 quattuortrigintillion percent, or 65 followed by 107 zeros – 65 million googol percent). In April 2009, Zimbabwe abandoned printing of the Zimbabwean dollar, and the South African rand and US dollar became the standard currencies for exchange. As of 2011 the currency has not been reintroduced yet.
3. Yugoslavia (January 1994)
500,000,000,000 Yugoslav dinar banknote
Yugoslavia went through a period of hyperinflation and subsequent currency reforms from 1989-1994. The highest denomination in 1988 was 50,000 dinars. By 1989 it was 2,000,000 dinars. In the 1990 currency reform, 1 new dinar was exchanged for 10,000 old dinars. In the 1992 currency reform, 1 new dinar was exchanged for 10 old dinars. The highest denomination in 1992 was 50,000 dinars. By 1993, it was 10,000,000,000 dinars. In the 1993 currency reform, 1 new dinar was exchanged for 1,000,000 old dinars. However, before the year was over, the highest denomination was 500,000,000,000 dinars. In the 1994 currency reform, 1 new dinar was exchanged for 1,000,000,000 old dinars. In another currency reform a month later, 1 novi dinar was exchanged for 13 million dinars (1 novi dinar = 1 German mark at the time of exchange). The overall impact of hyperinflation: 1 novi dinar = 1 × 1027~1.3 × 1027 pre 1990 dinars. Yugoslavia's rate of inflation hit 5 × 1015 percent cumulative inflation over the time period 1 October 1993 and 24 January 1994.
4. Germany (October 1923)
A 50 million mark bill from the days of the German depression. (photo)
Germany went through its worst inflation in 1923. In 1922, the highest denomination was 50,000 Mark. By 1923, the highest denomination was 100,000,000,000,000 Mark. In December 1923 the exchange rate was 4,200,000,000,000 Marks to 1 US dollar. In 1923, the rate of inflation hit 3.25 × 106 percent per month (prices double every two days). Beginning on 20 November 1923, 1,000,000,000,000 old Marks were exchanged for 1 Rentenmark so that 4.2 Rentenmarks were worth 1 US dollar, exactly the same rate the Mark had in 1914.
5. Greece (October 1944)
Greece went through its worst inflation in 1944. In 1942, the highest denomination was 50,000 drachmai. By 1944, the highest denomination was 100,000,000,000,000 drachmai. In the 1944 currency reform, 1 new drachma was exchanged for 50,000,000,000 drachmai. Another currency reform in 1953 replaced the drachma at an exchange rate of 1 new drachma = 1,000 old drachmai. The overall impact of hyperinflation: 1 (1953) drachma = 50,000,000,000,000 pre 1944 drachmai. The Greek monthly inflation rate reached 8.5 billion percent in October 1944.