Posts Tagged ‘inflation’

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As far as the Bank of England is concerned, the inflation panic is over for now. You may recall that many feared that one of Mark Carney’s first acts as governor of the Bank of England would be to put pen to paper and knock off a quick letter to George Osborne explaining why he was doing such a bad job at keeping inflation close to target. If inflation moves by more than one percentage point above the 2 per cent target, the UK’s most powerful central bank is required to write a letter of explanation to the chancellor.

As it turned out, inflation was 2.8 per cent in June – less than was feared and 0.2 percentage points down on the level that would have triggered a letter. This week the data for August was out, and this time inflation was just 2.7 per cent.

Will it continue to fall? Answer: unless something odd happens, surely yes. For one thing sterling is up, and recently rose to its highest level against the euro and dollar since January. For another thing, past movements in commodity prices suggest food inflation should fall sharply.

But thirdly, sheer maths seems to make it inevitable. Last autumn the UK saw prices rise quite sharply – up 1.5 per cent between August and December. Between May and August, prices rose by just 0.2 per cent. If the inflation rate we have seen over the last three months continues for the next three months, annual inflation will fall to just 1.3 per cent.

Now look at house prices and apply the same approach.

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According to the ONS, house prices rose by 3.1 per cent in the year to July. But between August and December last year, houses prices fell slightly. If house prices rise at the same pace seen in the past five months over the next five months, then that will mean house price inflation will be running at 9.4 per cent by December.

Yesterday’s ‘Daily Mail’ headlined: “Property price bubble is a MYTH”, and described the latest 3.3 per cent house price inflation rate as “modest”. But simple maths shows why this will change very soon and a bubble is, in fact, being created in our midst.

© Investment & Business News 2013

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You may remember the ads – it must have been around 20 years ago. They were for a magazine called ‘Fast Forward’ and for a few months they were on TV all the time – or so it seemed. Jeremy Beadle features in the ads and the jingle went “fast, fast forward, forward forward’ and the tune went like this laa, laa, la, la, la. Okay you may not remember the ads, maybe you have subconsciously blocked them from your memory, but if you do remember them apologies. You may now hear that tune in your head every time you hear the phrase ‘forward guidance’. And so, forward guidance is out and now it appears we have an inkling about how long rates will stay at 0.5 per cent.

The latest inflation report, out yesterday, came with a section talking about forward guidance. The Bank of England says that monetary policy will remain ultra-loose for as long as UK unemployment is greater than 7 per cent.

In forward guidance, if inflation does this, and jobs do that, says the Bank of England we will do as follows.

Accept that it’s forward guidance that may change as we move forward. The 7 per cent unemployment rate does not necessarily represent the end of the line for record low rates; rather it is, as Mark Carney called it, a ‘way station’.

Based on Bank of England predictions, for UK unemployment, it appears the first rate hike will be in late 2015.

Then again, if inflation picks up, and even if unemployment is still quite high, Mr Carney suggested the bank may change policy.

So it is a kind of forward guidance, based on current thinking. Well, Carney is human. He can’t do much more than that, but it does leave you wondering what the fuss is about.

It is tempting to say that forward guidance is little more than PR; a communication tool. But then again, the markets seem to be taking to it like proverbial ducks to water.

It does rather seem that forward guidance means the bank does not need to engage in any more QE. If you see QE as kind of weapon of mass financial destruction, then the threat that you may use it means that it is not necessary to do so.

© Investment & Business News 2013

Back in May 2010, increases in average wages were less than the rate of inflation. It has been that way every month since. Consumers may be feeling more confident, retail sales may be up, but one thing is sure, the improvements in sentiment are not down to rising wages. But in the latest data from the ONS there was a whiff of hope. Is it possible that wages are at last set to rise faster than prices?

In May 2010 inflation was 3.4 per cent. Wages (that’s including bonuses, by the way) rose by 2.5 per cent. Ever since then it has just got worse. The gap peaked in October 2011, when inflation was 5 per cent, and averages wages rose by 2 per cent, and until very recently the gap was almost as large. In March, for example, inflation was 2.8 per cent, while average wages rose by just 0.6 per cent. But since then things have begun to look better – that’s despite inflation getting worse. In May inflation was 2.9 per cent, but wages rose by 1.9 per cent. This was the highest level of annual increase in average wages since January 2012.

Looking forward, inflation may pick up over the next few months, but it is likely to fall later in the year.
So, if the rate of increase in average wages can carry on rising for a little longer, within a few months we might once again find wages are rising faster than inflation.

Many economists believe that a sustainable recovery in the UK economy can only occur once wages rise faster than inflation.

That, by the way, has been the snag with recent reports pointing to rising house prices and retail sales. How can they rise, if real wages – that is wages relative to inflation – are falling? Answer: they can only rise if household debt increases, and as it was told here the other day, UK housholds have enough debt as it is. See: What will happen to households as rates rise? 

In fact the hard data provides the evidence. UK households have been saving a lot less of late and borrowing more.

 

And so returning to wages and inflation, if it is the case that at last wages can rise faster than inflation then that is reason to celebrate.

It is just that in the long run, wages can only rise faster than inflation if productivity is improving. Alas there seems to be precious little evidence of that occurring at the moment.

© Investment & Business News 2013

Phew, that was close. UK inflation was 2.9 per cent in June, which was 0.1 percentage points less than expected and 0.2 percentage points less than feared, and some might say it was a relief.

If inflation had been 3.1 per cent, as some dreaded, then poor old Mark Carney, new in his job, would have been obliged to write a letter to the chancellor.

Even so, 2.9 per cent isn’t very good. In fact it is the highest rate of inflation since April 2012.

So here is the dilemma. The Fed is slowly moving towards tightening monetary policy. If it does this, the pound may come under pressure. The Bank of England has made it clear that it is in no hurry to follow the Fed, but can the UK afford inflation of around 3 per cent, and then for the pound to fall?

Remember, between February 2013 and April 2013 total pay (including bonuses) rose by just 1.3 per cent year on year, which was much less than inflation. If the pound falls, inflation will rise, and real wages will fall even further.

A cheap pound may help the UK’s long awaited export led recovery, but the UK also needs households’ real income to rise.

© Investment & Business News 2013

It’s not long now. Mark Carney will be settling into his new job as the governor of the Bank of England in a few weeks’ time. Alas, if the latest inflation data is any guide, one of his first tasks may be to write to George Osborne explaining why inflation is more than a whole percentage point over target.

According to the ONS, UK inflation was 2.7 per cent in May, from 2.4 per cent the month before. The largest upward contributions to the change in the rate came from transport and clothing. In fact airfares’ inflation rose from 0.8 to 21.3 per cent.

The largest downward contribution came from food.

Core inflation – that’s with food, energy and tobacco taken out – was 2.2 per cent in May, higher than in April but lower than in February and March.

But there was good news. Between April and May total input prices fell 0.3 per cent, compared with a fall of 2.3 per cent between March and April. Between April and May factory gate prices were unchanged, compared with a fall of 0.2 per cent between March and April.

Over the next few months, headline inflation will probably rise and may well rise over 3 per cent, eliciting Mr Carney’s first Dear George letter. But as the data on producer prices demonstrate, the underlying pressures are downwards, meaning inflation is expected to fall back later in the year, although of course we have heard this many times before.

Here is a theory for you to ponder, and by the way not one you will read elsewhere.

What impact has the internet had on inflation, do you think? By promoting such fierce price competition, it may have been a far more important factor behind the low inflation of the last ten years or so, than it is generally acknowledged. Take the internet effect on air flights, for example. It was surely pretty significant.

But was the internet effect a one off? Has the price competition it has enforced run its course? The fact that airfares have risen so sharply may suggest it has.

© Investment & Business News 2013

In April wages, including bonuses, fell by 0.3 per cent. This was a staggeringly awful piece of economic data, but was it just a one-off?

This morning data for May was out, and it was much better, with average wages rising 3.3 per cent in the year to May. During the same period, inflation was 2.4 per cent, so for the first time in a very long while, average wages rose faster than prices, meaning that average workers were better off.

There are some buts, however.

Firstly, it appears that the figures were distorted by the end of the tax year. Bonus payments were delayed until after April to take advantage of lower income tax rate. So that at least partially explains why the data for April looked so awful, but so good for May.

The ONS prefers to look at a three month periods. And in the three months to April, average wages rose by 1.3 per cent compared to a year ago. That was better than April when they rose by 0.6 per cent, but still at the lower end of what we have seen over the last few years. In other words, once again, the average worker was worse off in the three months to May, after taking into account inflation compared to the same period in 2012.

Secondly, because the end of the tax year distorted bonus payments, maybe on this occasion we should consider wages before bonuses – or regular pay as the ONS calls it. In May regular pay rose by 1.3 per cent, but in the three months to May it rose by just 0.9 per cent, which was the second lowest increase in the last 12 months.

Inflation is expected to rise over the next few months, so there is little reason to believe wages will grow faster than inflation meaning that there will be no positive growth in real wagesfor many months.

This is the flip side to better data on the jobs front. At 1.51 million, the unemployment rate in the three months to January (the latest period for which we have data) was at a two year low.

But relatively low unemployment – that is to say low considering where the economy is at – is being paid for by low wage growth. So the economy is still in a downturn, unemployment is surprisingly high given this, but look to wages for a partial explanation. This is why some say we have a problem of zombie companies in the UK, maybe even a zombie workforce, keeping low paid jobs, with low levels of productivity growth.

© Investment & Business News 2013

Every quarter, we hear the excuses. Inflation was higher than predicted in than previous inflation report because… Growth in GDP was less than expected because…

If there is one thing we have come to expect from inflation reports, it is that the forecasts will be changed – and for the worse.

But, and lean in close – this will be whispered so as not to jinx it – the next inflation report is due out this week, and talk is that the Bank of England may revise its estimates of growth – upwards. It may revise its estimates of inflation – downwards.

On the growth front, the last week or so has seen a fair dollop of good news. The latest Purchasing Managers’ Indices were up, with the sub index tracking new export orders in the manufacturing sector up to its highest level for a couple of years.

The latest news on industrial production, especially manufacturing, was encouraging, and now the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) has estimated that in the three months to April the UK economy expanded by 0.8 per cent.

Okay, 0.8 per cent expansion is not exactly a scintillating pace, but compared to what we have become used to, it really is rather good.

As for inflation, according to the British Retail Consortium, shop price inflation was just 0.4 per cent in April, the lowest level since 2009.

It is just that NIESR said underlying growth was not so good, and don’t forget that UK households will only feel better off once wages rise faster than inflation. In the three months to the end of February, wages rose by just 0.8 per cent compared to a year ago. Inflation must fall much, much further, or wages rise much faster before households feel better off.

Incidentally, the latest Bank of England inflation report will have an interim feel about it. The new governor, Mark Carney, will have taken over by the time of the next one. And the August report will look at ideas for loosening the bank’s targets for inflation too.

© Investment & Business News 2013