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Oil: The Supply Shock Which Isn’t There

December 17, 2014 5 comments

Carney on supply shocks at the Financial Stability Report yesterday when asked a question about “oil price risk and deflation risk”:

Mark Carney: Yeah. The – in terms of oil, I mean, this is a net positive development. I went through some of the channels of risk in my remarks – geopolitical, uncertain high yield issuers and then this deflation point, which I’ll expand on.

But I think we should be clear that the 40% plus drop in the oil price will flow quite quickly through to consumers; it will increase real disposable income; it’s a net positive for the UK economy. And the relative exposure – the relative exposure – of the UK financial system to the energy complex is manageable. And so unambiguously – net positive.

I asked this before but I’ll ask it again.  Who is upgrading their forecast for UK real GDP growth in the light of falling oil prices?  The Treasury’s helpful comparison of independent forecasts came out today, and that upgrade is not showing up yet.

HM Treasury Comparison of Forecasts, December 2014, p11

HM Treasury Comparison of Forecasts, December 2014, p11

Categories: Data, Inflation

Inflation: Not a Petroleum Phenomenon

December 17, 2014 1 comment

A quick post on this, this data deserves wider attention.  You might expect that UK inflation expectations would have fallen recently, given the collapse in oil prices.  You’d be wrong.  This is the BoE data for this year for implied RPI from the gilt market.

UK Market Inflation (RPI) Expectation

UK Market Inflation (RPI) Expectation. Source: Bank of England

(Reminder for non-Brits, expect the RPI rate to be roughly 1% above the CPI rate, 2% on the latter being the Bank’s actual target.)

That’s actually a very dovish (as in “high”) inflation forecast, when many forecasters are busy revising down their short-term inflation forecasts as the oil price falls.  What are the markets seeing that the City scribblers have missed?

If we take the data as given… I could argue this one either way.  On the one hand, an inflation-targeting central bank really should be judged on its success in stabilising the expected path of inflation.  MPC members should be crowing about this data.  On the other hand, we know that inflation-targeting central banks which try too hard to hit their targets in the face of large supply shocks tend to screw up time and time again.

So, let’s cheer a little, but perhaps quietly.  I don’t see any reason to be concerned about near-term demand-side weakness as long as the the MPC continues to keep short-term inflation expectations steady in the face of a large supply-side disinflation.

Whip Inflation Now?!

November 14, 2014 3 comments

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 (et al), 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”.

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.

Wages vs Employment

July 17, 2014 14 comments

There is an interesting asymmetry in how people read the macro data.

For a given increase in aggregate nominal spending (income) I think it would be generally agreed that “what we want to see” is a higher volume of output and not much inflation.  Does anybody disagree?  Anybody out there who would prefer the trade-off shifts towards higher inflation and lower output growth?  No?

OK.  For a given increase in aggregate nominal income (spending) we can consider the same trade-off between employment and wages.  I had taken it as given that we had a depressed labour market and so “what we want to see” is that increases in aggregate income will translate primarily into higher employment.

What we have seen over the last year looks quite amazing.  Over the year to the March-May 2014 period, hours worked has risen 3.7%.  We only have nominal data for Q1, but that showed a 4.1% rise in nominal aggregate labour income.  In other words, the increase in aggregate income has translated almost entirely into a higher volume of labour employed and there is no inflation – nominal wage growth is maybe just positive.

Yet this is seen somehow as a bad thing, see, for example the Guardian here, which puzzles me.  Do you have a sticky wage model of the labour market, in which AD shocks can raise/lower employment, or not?   Is higher employment in 2014 a good thing, or not?   These questions have simple answers for this simpleton blogger.

6.5% is a good news story, and let’s hope they keep coming.

Categories: Inflation, Wages

Administered Prices, Revisited

June 17, 2014 6 comments

A quick note, file under “Relentless Attack on Inflation”.  Thanks to some kind soul on twitter (whose name I’ve forgotten), I discovered that Eurostat have time series which split “administered prices” out of the HICP (= UK CPI).

UK HICP and Variants

UK HICP and Variants. Source: Eurostat HICP ex Admin Prices , HICP , HICP at Constant Taxes

I have discussed the effect of “administered prices” on the CPI here before, and I don’t have much to add.  When energy prices go up because of increasing regulatory costs is that an “administered price” shock which should be ignored, or not?  There are no “right” answers, it depends on your views on the appropriate goals for macro policy.

(It would be interesting to drill down into the divergence of the HICP from the HICP ex AP between 2004 and 2008.  Tuition fees again?)

Categories: Data, Inflation

Inflation, Inflation… There is No Inflation

June 17, 2014 15 comments

I want to clarify since I always feel a bit dirty after doing pessimistic posts about the supply-side:

1) I have very low confidence in any views about “potential output” and whether the productivity data is “correct”.  That is doubly true for my own half-baked views.

2) I think the productivity data should have a 0% weight in setting monetary policy.  Zero, zip, nada, zilch.  And I think nominal wages and/or incomes should have a 100% weight.

It is this second point which made me particularly angry at Carney’s (latest) hawkish move: the new data this year is telling us that nominal wage inflation is at record lows.  Hence we need tighter monetary policy because…?  Well, it’s not clear.

It is half true that the UK is looking more like Japan in 2014 than ever before.  The CPI rate is below target and now looking kind of “low“.  Nominal wage growth is dead.  Tax revenues are sluggish; there is a gigantic fiscal deficit and public sector debt is heading up to the moon.  The currency is looking pretty strong – something which plagued pre-Abe Japan regularly.  Almost everybody is a supply-side pessimist.  Our central bankers are hawkish.  And even Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition has been campaigning on the basis that “prices are too high”.  (Maybe Ed Balls read all the Japan ZLB literature sitting on his head?)

But that is not the whole picture.  I still don’t see any convincing sign that nominal GDP growth is slowing from around 4-5% y/y, a rate which should normally be consistent with the Bank’s mandate.  The “low CPI rate” today is as useless a demand-side indicator as the 5.2% CPI rate was in September of 2008 or 2011.  Inflation expectations are very stable and consistent with hitting that 2%.  Confidence indicators are at multi-decade highs.  I think “steady as she goes” would be a pretty reasonable monetary policy if you do want to take the inflation target seriously.

Anyway… 1.5%!!!

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