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Whip Inflation Now?!

November 14, 2014 1 comment

I see some fuss over the wage data (again)… but I’m not convinced, especially since this happened earlier in the year and it was a false “dawn”.  Declaring my bias: I want to believe there is still a massive hole in labour supply, either in the form of unemployed workers, or workers not getting enough hours.  Hence, we still have a significant output gap, and we can expect to see unemployment fall to somewhere near 5%.  Fast wage growth now would be a disconfirmation of labour market slack, so in a sense it is not what I “want” to see.  (I also prefer that we’d had a macro policy since 2008 which had aimed for 4% wage growth and avoided large shocks to unemployment.)

Martin Weale and others are citing survey measures of pay settlements.  I don’t see any reason to trust that over the ONS data.  But the ONS labour market update for 2014 Q3 gave us a spike in the 6m growth rate:

Private Sector Regular Weekly Earnings

Private Sector Regular Weekly Earnings. Source: ONS KAI7

That measure is clearly quite volatile.

The annoying thing here really is the “policy-based evidence-making” by Weale (inter alia), who has spent the last four years cherry-picking whatever data best supports his preferred policy of higher interest rates.  In 2011 Weale told us to look at the GVA deflator, in 2013 the excuse was unit labour costs, and in 2014 the excuse is that he spoke to some business owners who said wages were rising.  And by the way in 2014 the GVA deflator is running below 2% y/y and unit labour cost growth is around 0%.

Anyway, here are trends and levels for private sector regular weekly wages:

UK Nominal Average Weekly Earnings vs Trends

UK Nominal Average Weekly Earnings vs Trends. Source: ONS KAI7 , KAI7

That tiny spike is enough to warrant rate rises?  Really, that’s the best argument there is?  We also have the quarterly estimates of hourly earnings, with the update to the “EARN08″ table, although this survey measure excludes very high earners:

ONS Quarterly Hourly Earnings Estimate (Table EARN08)

ONS Quarterly Hourly Earnings Estimate (Table EARN08). Source: ONS EARN08 table

Again… there is no “inflation”.

This is what Haruhiko Kuroda Thinks About The “Liquidity Trap”

October 31, 2014 Leave a comment

Mike Bird has the details.

Categories: Japan, Monetary Policy

UK 2014 Q3 Nominal GVA, Early Estimate

October 24, 2014 2 comments

Eagle-eyed reader James noticed earlier this year that the ONS have started releasing a low-level breakdown of GDP which includes current price data even in the “Month 1″ GDP data.  The official data in each quarter’s Month 1 estimate only has volume (real) measures of GDP, so previously we had to wait for the Month 2 estimate to get nominal GDP.  The low-level breakdown is for GVA so I’ll compare against the official series for nominal GVA:

Q/Q Growth at Annual Rates, %
Year Low-level
NGVA
Estimate
Official
Data
2013 Q1 3.6 4.8
2013 Q2 4.4 4.1
2013 Q3 4.8 6.9
2013 Q4 3.3 2.1
2014 Q1 3.7 3.7
2014 Q2 6.3 7.9
2014 Q3 3.9

The estimate suggests nominal demand growth has continued at a reasonable pace in Q3, adjusting for the “tyranny of low expectations” which allows me to believe 4% NGDP growth is “reasonable”.  Year-on-year growth comparing the low-level data with official nominal GVA:

UK Nominal GVA, Preliminary Estimate vs Official Data

UK Nominal GVA, Preliminary Estimate vs Official Data. Source: ONS 2014 Q3 M1, ABML

Thanks to James for finding this data source.

Categories: Data, UK GDP

Time to take the inflation target seriously

October 17, 2014 3 comments

It appears my timing could have been better in calling UK macro boring.

UK Market Inflation Expectations, FTSE 100, 2013-4

UK Market Inflation Expectations, FTSE 100, 2013-4. Source: Quandl, BoE

Those are not my ideal measures but the closest for which I have good data.  The 2.5 year implied RPI has fallen by 0.5% over the last thirty days, to 2.4% as of yesterday, implying a significant undershoot of the 2% CPI target over the Bank’s forecast period (2-3 years).  The FTSE 250 is at the lowest level for a year.

I caught a Newsnight discussion on the UK inflation data which was perfectly introduced by Duncan Weldon, who asked the right question: is the fall in inflation driven by the demand-side or supply-side?  The studio debate which followed was a little disjointed from the reality in which the UK CPI rate has been a consistently bad indicator of UK demand-side strength.  In fact it’s a contrary indicator, since periods of stronger real growth have been associated with weaker inflation and vice-versa.  George Magnus would have us believe that the inflation data is giving us textbook (“Economics 101″) evidence of a “chronic deficiency of aggregate demand”.  Chronic deficiency!?  If you ignore the fact that CPI inflation has averaged 2.9% over the last eight years, sure, Mr Magnus.

But I’d answer Duncan’s question like this.  If we see inflation running below the expected path and real GDP above the expected path, that looks like a positive supply-side shock.  If we see both falling short, that’s a negative demand-side shock.

Here for each quarter I take the Bank’s median forecast of the CPI rate and RGDP growth from the Inflation Report four quarters earlier, and compare with the outturn:

Deviation from Bank of England Year-Ago Median Forecast

Deviation from Bank of England Year-Ago Median Forecast. Source: BoE, ONS

The unexpected weakness of inflation and unexpected strength of real GDP growth does look like favourable supply-side news so far this year.  That’s a backward-looking analysis.

What matters now is policy today, which is forward-looking.  If the fall in UK inflation expectations is evidence of a positive supply-side shock then we should see a symmetric rise in UK real growth expectations.  So who has upgraded their forecast of UK growth over the last month?  The answer is… nobody has… and the fall in the equity markets (and gilt yields) makes it clear that growth prospects are falling too.

The Bank’s defence of inflation targeting as a policy regime, and their defence of the MPC’s decision-making under that policy regime, has always been consistent: what really matters is ensuring that inflation expectations are firmly anchored.

So… do it!  Carney and friends have been making hawkish noises in speech after speech through the summer, trying to prepare the ground for rate rises.  Does anybody seriously believe that there is even a single MPC member who believes the Bank is stuck in a “liquidity trap”, desperate for higher inflation but doesn’t know how to get there?  No: that is just a convenient fiction.

For the MPC, the facts have changed, and policy needs to aim at raising inflation expectations so they are consistent with the target.  Bravo to Andy Haldane for shifting in a dovish direction.  As for Martin Weale… what can you say.

UK 2014 Q2 Nominal GDP

October 16, 2014 4 comments

I’m a bit late with this.  With the ESA10 revisions integrated into the national accounts we finally got an estimate of nominal GDP for Q2 in the Quarterly National Accounts.  The usual data dump: quarter-on-quarter growth at annual rates (US-style):

Year Nominal
GDP
Deflator Real
GDP
2013 Q1 3.7 1.6 2.1
2013 Q2 4.6 1.6 2.7
2013 Q3 7.7 4.0 3.5
2013 Q4 2.6 0.4 2.5
2014 Q1 3.4 0.4 3.0
2014 Q2 8.1 4.4 3.8

ONS q/q NGDP growth rates continue to be annoyingly volatile.  For the longer view of growth I’ll compare with the OBR forecasts from Budget 2014, which also shows the contrast with the old data before ESA10 revisions:

UK Nominal GDP vs OBR Forecast

Revised UK Nominal GDP vs OBR Forecast. Source: OBR, ONS YBHA

2012 does not look quite as bad as it did before.  There are a number of things which are mysterious about the 2012 data – mainly the fact that real GDP goes nowhere as employment soars.  Really, that data is just weird.  If there was a betting market in UK GDP revisions I’d bet 2012 can get revised up further.  Fast forward to 2014 and we do see nominal GDP growth at slightly above 5% y/y.  That is a good place to be.

Real GDP growth also looks less bad.  The Bank have been expecting upward RGDP revisions for a while, it will be interesting to see in the Inflation Report whether this matches expectations.

UK Real GDP vs OBR Forecast

Revised UK Real GDP vs OBR Forecast. Source: OBR, ONS ABMI

Prior to the revisions it was harder to make the case that the breakdown of GDP-by-income was consistent with what was happening in the labour market – not impossible, but hard.  The updated series for total nominal wage and salary compensation is in fact more consistent with happened to employment (hours worked).  Four quarter moving averages, growth rates:

Wage and Salary Compensation vs Total Hours Worked

Wage and Salary Compensation vs Total Hours Worked. Source: ONS YBUS , RPCG

The gap between the lines is (roughly) wage inflation: there isn’t any.

Categories: Data, UK GDP

Austerity Forever or 4% Inflation: Your Choice, Britain

September 24, 2014 25 comments

Serious people talk about the public finances facing a dilemma of higher taxes and/or cuts to public services.  When I read those discussions all I can think about is nominal GDP.  As a non-serious blogger, I reside happily in what Flip Chart Rick calls “Fiscal La La Land”, with my simple solution for fiscal salvation: the 4% solution, raising the inflation target.

Raising the inflation target would raise tax revenues, raise the denominator in debt/GDP, and allows cuts to real wages in the public sector without renegotiating (or reneging on) contracts made in nominal terms, and/or mass redundancies, both of which naturally provoke outrage from public sector workers and many consumers of those services.

Of course, we don’t really need higher “inflation”.  And Serious People can’t talk like that, because “inflating away the debt” is unthinkable, it is not virtuous.  The virtuous idea of “deflating up the debt” is curiously absent from modern debate, but that is exactly what the British government has managed to achieve in driving nominal GDP 20% below trend since 2008.

Here is the OBR explaining clearly what really matters – my emphasis applied, and read closely: 

1.14.  If the ballooning of the budget deficit simply reflected the fact that nominal GDP and asset markets had fallen a long way below the paths anticipated for them prior to the crisis – and that in time they could be expected to return to those paths – then there would be no compelling case for a large-scale fiscal consolidation to return the budget deficit to its pre-crisis level, although debt interest costs could be higher for a significant period.

1.15. The case for the consolidation – accepted by both the previous and current Governments, albeit with disagreement about its size and pace – is that the potential level of GDP that the economy can sustain, consistent with meeting the inflation target, is likely to be permanently lower than people thought prior to the crisis. Our latest forecast assumes that potential GDP was around 12 1⁄2 per cent lower than the Budget 2008 forecast by 2012-13 and that it will be 16 per cent below an extrapolation of that forecast by 2018-19. Even the most optimistic external assessments lie well below an extrapolation of the Budget 2008 forecast.

Market monetarists are often perceived as being pseudo-austerians in our opposition to “using fiscal policy”.  I think this is backwards.  I see “fiscal austerity” as a necessary by-product of the failed macro policy regime called inflation targeting, and nominal GDP level targeting is the best way to avoid “fiscal austerity”.

That is exactly what the OBR is saying above.  If NGDP was expected to return to trend there is no case for fiscal consolidation.  A difficult fiscal consolidation is required under inflation targeting when there is a permanent fall in the level of potential GDP.  The current fiscal consolidation is going to continue being “difficult” as long as productivity growth continues to disappoint.  If you want to know how Britain can end up having public finances like Japan, keep watching the productivity figures.

(If this is not intuitive consider what is held constant: if you hold the inflation rate constant, nominal GDP, nominal wages, nominal tax revenues etc must track the path of productivity.  If you hold the path of nominal GDP constant changes to inflation rate reflect changes to productivity growth.)

Right-wingers find this message uncomfortable, but are often the first to champion the idea that “falling prices should reflect rising productivity.”  That’s right.  Specifically, below-trend inflation should reflect above-trend productivity growth, and above-trend inflation should reflect below-trend productivity growth.  That symmetrical outcome is what NGDP targeting aims to provide.  Right now we have below-trend inflation and below-trend productivity growth.  You can’t ignore one half of the equation when it suits you.

The real “austerians” are not the crazy, obsessive monetarists who don’t want to talk about fiscal policy, but the 95% of economists who have a crazy, obsessive belief that 2% inflation targeting approximates optimal macro policy.

The Creditable Dullness of Being Mark Carney

September 12, 2014 17 comments

UK macro is really quite boring at the moment, and I cannot be happier to report that news.  Of course boring events do not get reported as “news”, but that’s why we have blogs.  Sure, there is a lot of debate about Scotland and so on which is related to macroeconomics – but UK macro events are not really capturing the headlines.  UK GDP updates, labour market news… well, there’s a war on… let’s talk about Putin.

Contrast with the Eurozone.  Mario Draghi is exciting!  He is doing things.  Pulling levers!  Fiddling with interest rates.  Easing credit conditions, improving financial conditions.  Trying to get that CPI rate up… maybe.  Oh, and allowing inflation expectations to collapse.  That’s news.

Mark Carney expressed a worthy ambition in his statement to the Treasury Select Committee in 2013, that he “would like to achieve an exit in 2018 that is less newsworthy than my entrance”.  I think he is well on the way to achieving that.  This is how it should be.  Central banking should be boring – nominal stability should be boring.  If the nominal economy is stable, all the “news” will be “real”, in the sense of being supply-side.

For the first time in years I could not be bothered to watch the Inflation Report live last month, but skipping through the recording, the Broadbent, Carney and Shafik show is delightfully dull.  Carney even takes pleasure from his own boringness:

What we’re putting emphasis on, and I know it’s boring and repetitive and it doesn’t clip into a new headline, we’re focusing on the path, the likely path of rates, the limited and gradual adjustment in those rates over the medium term, because of the headwinds that are facing this economy.

And again…

First and foremost it’s about the path for rate increases. I know it’s dull, I know it’s repetitive, but that’s the problem with consistency, it’s dull and repetitive.

Bravo Dr. C, bravo.  And the annoying cricket metaphors are gone too.

This is what short-term inflation expectations (from gilt yields) looked like when UK macro events were newsworthy:

UK Inflation Expectations.  Source: Bank of England

UK RPI Inflation Expectations. Source: Bank of England

Quite the roller-coaster.  I use the 3.5 year measure because it’s the most complete time series.  Note this is RPI not CPI, and RPI at 3% is roughly equivalent to CPI at 2%.

Here is the last year and a bit:

UK Inflation Expectations.  Source: Bank of England

UK RPI Inflation Expectations. Source: Bank of England

What a dull, dull graph.  Carney and the rest of the MPC deserve the highest praise for making macro policy boring.

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