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Posts Tagged ‘cost-push inflation’

Inflation back down to 2%

A recession is typically characterised by high unemployment, low or negative growth and low inflation, due to a lack of aggregate demand. However, since 2009, inflation levels in the UK have only added to the pressures facing the government and the Bank of England. Not only had there been a problem of lack of demand, but the inflation target was no longer being met.

Inflation had increased to above 5% – a figure we had not been accustomed to for many years. With interest rates at record lows with the aim of boosting aggregate demand, demand-pull inflation only added to cost-push pressures. However, data released by the ONS shows that inflation, as measured by the CPI, has now fallen back to its 2% target. Having been at 2.1% in November 2013, the figure for December 2013 fell by 0.1 percentage points.

The data for December include some of the energy price rises from the big six, but do not include the full extent of price decreases and discounting initiated by retailers in the lead up to Christmas. The key factors that have helped to keep prices down include some of the discounting throughout December and falling food prices, in particular bananas, grapes and meat.

With inflation back on target, pressures have been removed from the Bank of England to push up interest rates. Mark Carney has said that interest rates will remain at 0.5% until unemployment falls to 7%. With unemployment fast approaching this target, there has been speculation that interest rates would rise, but with inflation falling back on target, these pressures have been reduced. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart.) Referring to this, Jeremy Cook, the chief economist at World First said:

The lack of inflation will help stay their hand especially if the pace of job creation seen in the second half of last year also shows.

These thoughts were echoed by Rob Wood, the chief UK economist at Berenberg Bank:

Inflation is the BoE’s ‘get out of jail free’ card for this year … The lack of inflation pressure gives them room to delay a first hike until next year.

Many economists now believe that the CPI rate of inflation is likely to remain at or below the target, in particular if productivity growth improves. This belief is further enhanced by the fact that tax rates are stable, the pound is relatively strong and the previous upward pressure on commodity prices from China is now declining. Some economists believe that CPI inflation could fall to 1.5% this year and the Treasury has said that it is ‘another sign that the Government’s long-term economic plan is working’. The following articles consider this latest macroeconomic data.

UK inflation falls to Bank of England’s 2pc target in December The Telegraph, Szu Ping Chan (14/1/14)
UK inflation falls to 2% target rate in December BBC News (14/1/14)
Carney’s lucky streak continues as UK inflation slows to 2% Financial Times, Claire Jones (14/1/14)
UK inflation fall gives Bank of England a lift Wall Street Journal, Richard Barley(14/1/14)
Inflation falls to Bank of England target Reuters, William Schomberg and Ana Nicolaci da Costa (14/1/14)
Inflation hits Bank of England’s target of 2% in December Independent, John Paul Ford Rojas (14/1/14)

Questions

  1. What is the relationship between interest rates and aggregate demand?
  2. Which factors have led to the reduction in the rate of inflation?
  3. Why have the latest data on inflation rates reduced the pressure on the Bank of England to increase interest rates?
  4. Why do stable tax rates, a strong pound and reduced pressure from China on commodity prices suggest that the CPI measures of inflation is likely to remain at similarly low levels?
  5. Why has the RPI increased while the CPI has fallen?
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When inflation may be good news

Japan has suffered from deflation on and off for more than 20 years. A problem with falling prices is that they discourage spending as people wait for prices to fall further. One of the three elements of the Japanese government’s macroeconomic policy (see Japan’s three arrows) has been expansionary monetary policy, including aggressive quantitative easing. A key aim of this is to achieve an inflation target of 2% and, hopefully, propel the economy out of its deflationary trap.

The latest news, therefore, from Japan would seem to be good: consumer prices rose 0.4% in June – the first rise for more than a year. But while some analysts see the rise in prices to be partly the result of a recovery in demand (i.e. demand-pull inflation), others claim that the inflation is largely of the cost-push variety as the weaker yen has increased the price of imported fuel and food.

If Japanese recovery is to be sustained and broadly based, a growth in real wages should be a core component. As it is, real wages are not growing. This could seriously constrain the recovery. For real wages to grow, employers need to be convinced that economic recovery will be sustained and that it would be profitable to take on more labour.

The success of the expansionary policy, therefore, depends in large part on its effect on expectations. Do people believe that prices will continue to rise? Do employers believe that the economy will continue to expand? And do people believe that their real wages will rise?

Articles
Japan prices turn higher, but BOJ’s goal remains tall order Reuters, Tetsushi Kajimoto and Leika Kihara (26/7/13)
How Japan Could Go from Deflation to Hyperinflation in a Heartbeat The Wall Street Journal, Michael J. Casey (24/7/13)
Japan Prices Rise Most Since ’08 in Boost for Abe Bloomberg, Toru Fujioka & Andy Sharp (26/7/13)
Japan central bank finds the pessimists come from within Reuters, Leika Kihara (26/7/13)
Japan’s Fiscal Crossroads: Will Abenomics Mean Tougher Changes? The Daily Beast, Daniel Gross (26/7/13)
Japan Economist Makes Rare Call to Tackle Debt The Wall Street Journal, Kosaku Narioka (25/7/13)
Japanese Consumer Prices Rise In Sign Of Some Success In Abe Economic Policy International Business Times, Nat Rudarakanchana (26/7/13)

Data
Bank of Japan Statistics Bank of Japan
Statistics Statistics Bureau of Japan
International sites for data Economics Network

Questions

  1. Distinguish between cost-push and demand-pull inflation? Do higher prices resulting from a depreciation of the currency always imply that the resulting inflation is of the cost-push variety?
  2. In the Japanese context, is inflation wholly desirable or are there any undesirable consequences?
  3. Consider whether a two-year time frame is realistic for the the Bank of Japan to achieve its 2% inflation target.
  4. What is meant by the output gap? Using sources such as the European Commission’s European Economy, AMECO database and the OECD’s Economic Outlook: Statistical Annex Tables (see sites 6 and 7 in the Economics Network’s links to Economic Data freely available online) trace the Japanese output gap over the past 10 years and comment on your findings.
  5. What supply-side constraints are likely to limit the rate and extent of recovery in Japan? What is the Japanese government doing about this (see the third arrow of Japan’s three arrows)?
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Food prices

With droughts and poor harvests in both North America and in Russia and the Ukraine, there are worries that food prices are likely to see sharp rises in the coming months. This is clearly bad news for consumers, especially the poor for whom food accounts for a large proportion of expenditure.

But it’s also bad news more generally, as higher food prices are likely to have a dampening effect on the global economy, struggling to recover from five years of low or negative growth. And it’s not just food prices. Oil prices are rising again. Since mid June, they have risen by nearly 25%. This too is likely to have a dampening effect.

Another contributing factor to rising food prices is a response, in part, to rising oil prices. This is the diversion of land from growing food to growing crops for biofuels.

G20 countries held a conference call on 28 August to discuss food prices. Although representatives decided against an emergency meeting, they agreed to reassess the situation in a few weeks when the size of the US harvest would be clearer. If the situation proved as bad as feared, then the G20 would call an emergency meeting of the Rapid Response Forum, to consider what could be done.

But is the sole cause of rising food prices a lack of production? Are there other problems on the supply side, such as poor distribution systems and waste? And what about the role of demand? How is this contributing to long-term increases in food prices? The articles consider these various factors and what can be done to dampen food prices.

Articles
G20 points to ‘worrying’ food prices Financial Times, Javier Blas (28/8/12)
US food prices to surge on drought Gulf News(30/8/12)
Best to get used to high food and energy prices – they’re here to stay The Telegraph, Jeremy Warner (29/8/12)
Feeling a drought The Economist (14/8/12)
Q&A: World food and fuel prices BBC News (14/8/12)
G20 considers global meeting as food prices rise BBC News (28/8/12)
Biofuels and Food Prices (direct link) BBC ‘In the Balance’ programme (25/8/12)
U.N. body urges G20 action on food prices, waste Reuters, Patrick Lannin (27/8/12)
Ethanol industry hits back over food price claims EurActiv (28/8/12)
The era of cheap food may be over Guardian, Larry Elliott (2/9/12)

Data
Food Price Index Index Mundi

Questions

  1. Why have food prices been rising in recent weeks?
  2. Use a demand and supply diagram to demonstrate what has been happening to food prices.
  3. What determines the price elasticity of demand for wheat? What might this elasticity vary over time?
  4. What is the role of speculation in determining food prices?
  5. Illustrate on an aggregate demand and supply diagram the effect of a commodity price shock. What is likely to be the policy response from central banks?
  6. What determines the price elasticity of supply of food in (a) the short term and (b) the long term?
  7. What determines the cross price elasticity of supply of food to the price of oil? Is the cross price elasticity of supply positive or negative?
  8. What can governments do to reduce food prices, or at least reduce food price inflation?
  9. What benefits may come from higher food and fuel prices over the longer term?
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Oil slipping

Oil prices have been falling in recent months. By early June they had reached a 17-month low. The benchmark US crude price (the West Texas Intermediate price) fell to $83.2 at the beginning of the month, and Brent Crude (the North Sea reference price for refining into petrol) fell to $97.7 (see chart). (For a PowerPoint of the chart below, click here.)

At the same time various commodity prices have also been falling. The IMF all commodities price index has fallen by 7.2% over the past 12 months and by 6.2% in May alone. Some commodities have fallen much faster. In the 12 months to May 2012, natural gas fell by 44%, wheat by 25%, lamb by 37%, Arabica coffee by 36%, coconut oil by 45%, cotton by 47%, iron ore by 23% and tin by 29%.

Although part of the reason for the fall in the price of some commodities is increased supply, the main reason is weak world demand. And with continuing problems in the eurozone and a slowdown in China and the USA, commodity price weakness is likely to continue.

So is this good news? To the extent that commodity prices feed through into consumer prices and impact on the rate of inflation, then this is good news. As inflation falls, so central banks will be encouraged to make further cuts in interest rates (in the cases where they are not already at a minimum). For example, the Reserve Bank of Australia cut its cash rate last week from 3.75% to 3.5%. This follows on from a cut from 4.25% on 1 May. In cases where there is no further scope for interest rate cuts (e.g. the US Federal Reserve Bank, whose interest rate is between 0% and 0.25%), then the fall in inflation may encourage a further round of quantitative easing.

But falling commodity prices are also a reflection of bad news, namely the low economic growth of the world economy and fears of turmoil from a possible Greek exit from the euro.

Update
A day after this was written (9/6/12), a deal was agreed between eurozone ministers to provide support of up to €100 billion for Spanish banks. This helped to reduce pessimism about the world economy, at least temporarily. Stock markets rose and so too did oil prices, by around 1%. But if pessimism increases again, then the fall is likely to resume.

Articles
Oil prices hit a 17-month low on China slowdown fears BBC News (8/6/12)
Oil gives up gains without signs of Fed move BloombergBusinessweek, Sandy Shore (7/6/12)
Oil Heads for Longest Run of Weekly Losses in More Than 13 Years BloombergBusinessweek, (8/6/12)
Gold plunges as Bernanke gives no hint of stimulus Live5News(7/6/12)
Oil Price Tumbles Below $83 on Weak Economy Money News(8/6/12)
World food price index expected to fall for May Reuters(6/6/12)
Oil price losing streak continues Guardian, Julia Kollewe (8/6/12)

Data
Spot fuel prices US Energy Information Administration
Commodity Prices Index Mundi
Crude Oil Price Index Index Mundi

Questions

  1. Why have crude oil prices fallen to their lowest level for 17 months?
  2. How can the concepts of income elasticity of demand, price elasticity of supply and price elasticity of demand help to explain the magnitude of the fall in crude oil prices?
  3. Would a fall in inflation linked to a fall in commodity prices be a fall in cost-push or demand-pull inflation? Explain.
  4. What are the macroeconomic implications of the fall in crude oil prices?
  5. What factors are likely to have significant impact on crude oil prices in the coming months
  6. Why is it difficult to predict crude oil prices over the coming months?
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An economic puzzle

Between December 2007 and March 2009, the Bank of England reduced Bank Rate on several occasions in order to stimulate the economy and combat recession. By March 2009, the rate stood at a record low of 0.5%. Each month the Monetary Policy Committee meets to decide on interest rates and since March 2009, the members’ decision has consistently been that Bank Rate needs to remain at 0.5%.

Although the UK economy has been making tentative steps towards recovery, it is still in a very vulnerable state. Last month, the Bank of England extended its programme of quantitative easing to a total £325bn stimulus. This, together with the decision to keep interest rates down and with the shock fall in manufacturing output contributing towards first quarter growth of just 0.1%, is a key indication that the UK economy is still struggling, even though the central bank thinks it unlikely that the UK will re-enter recession this year.

Monetary policy in the UK has been very much geared towards stimulating economic growth, despite interest rates typically being the main tool to keep inflation on target at 2%. The problem facing the central bank is that economic growth and inflation are in something of a conflict. Low interest rates to stimulate economic growth also create a higher inflation environment and that is the trade-off the economy has faced. Inflation has been well above its target for some months (a high of 5.2% in September 2011), and the low interest rate environment has done little to deflate the figure. After all, low interest rates are a monetary instrument that can be used to boost aggregate demand, which can then create demand-pull inflation. However, inflation is now slowly beginning to fall, but this downward trend could be reversed with the sky high oil prices we are recently experiencing. If inflation does begin to creep back up, the Monetary Policy Committee will once again face a decision: keep Bank Rate low and continue with quantitative easing to stimulate the economy or increase Bank Rate to counter the higher rate of inflation.

The data over recent months has been truly inconsistent. Some indicators suggest improvements in the economy and the financial environment, whereas others indicate an economic situation that is moving very quickly in the wrong direction. A key factor is that the direction the UK economy takes is very much dependent on the world economy and, in particular, on how events in the eurozone unfold. The following articles consider some of the latest economic developments.

UK economy grew 0.1% to avoid recession, says NIESR Guardian, Katie Allen (5/4/12)
UK interest rates held at 0.5% BBC News (5/4/12)
UK just about avoided recession in Q1, NIESR says Telegraph, Angela Monaghan (5/4/12)
Bank of England keeps interest rates on hold at 0.5pc Telegraph (5/4/12)
UK economy ‘weak but showing signs of improvement’ BBC News (3/4/12)
Bank of England holds on quantitative easing and interest rates Guardian, Katie Allen (5/4/12)
Faith on Tories on economy hits new low Financial Times, Helen Warrell (6/4/12)

Questions

  1. Which factors will the Monetary Policy Committee consider when setting interest rates?
  2. Using a diagram to help your answer, illustrate and explain the trade-off that the MPC faces when choosing to keep interest rates low or raise them.
  3. What is quantitative easing? How is it expected to boost economic growth in the UK?
  4. Which factors are likely to have contributed towards the low growth rate the UK economy experienced in the first quarter of 2012?
  5. Explain the trends that we have seen in UK inflation over the past year. What factors have caused the figure to increase to a high in September and then fall back down?
  6. What do you expect to happen to inflation over the next few months? To what extent is your answer dependent on the MPC’s interest rate decisions?
  7. Although the official figures suggest that the UK avoided a double-dip recession, do you agree with this assessment? Explain your answer.
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When is inflation good news?

While inflation is a concern in the UK and is making the Bank of England think twice about keeping interest rates at their all time low of 0.5%, inflation in Japan is being celebrated. The Japanese economy has been plagued by deflation for over a decade and for the past 2 years inflation has never been above 0%. However, in April the consumer price index (CPI) rose to 0.6% from the previous year, fuelled by petrol prices. Strangely it might be the Japanese earthquake and tsunami that helped this situation, as Japan was unable to generate sufficient electricity and hence had to import fuel from abroad.

A typical question from non-economists is always about why deflation and hence falling prices is such a bad thing. Surely, it’s great for consumers? For those shopping for bargains, perhaps it is helpful – after all, if prices fall, a consumer’s real income will be higher. However, the problem with falling prices is that people start to hold off buying. If you want to buy a car, but expect prices to be lower next month, then it’s a rational decision to delay your purchase until next month when prices are lower. However, next month, you still expect prices to be lower in the following month and so delay purchasing again. And so the process continues. When people expect prices to fall they put off their purchases, this reduces demand and so prices do indeed fall. There are also costs for businesses: as consumers delay buying, sales begin to fall. And businesses are also consumers, and so they start delaying their purchases of inputs.

While many central banks across the world have begun to tighten monetary policy, the Japanese central bank seems inclined to keep monetary policy loose and has even considered expanding the emergency lending programme. As Azusa Kato, an economist at BNP Paribas, said:

“The bank will probably add stimulus if it sees more signs of weakening demand”. “If you strip out energy and food costs, consumer prices are basically flat now.”

Despite this inflationary pressure, many believe that it is unlikely to continue and deflationary pressures may appear once again in the near future. The following articles consider the Japanese deflationary situation.

Articles
Japan ends 25 months of deflation Bloomberg, Mayumi Otsuma (27/5/11)
Japan consumer prices log first rise in 28 months Associated Press (27/5/11)
Japan beats deflation for the first time in two years BBC News (275/11)
Japan overcomes deflation for first time in two years Guardian, Julia Kollewe (27/5/11)
Japanese consumer price rise (including video) BBC News (27/5/11)
Japan April core CPI rises 0.6 pct yr/yr Reuters (26/5/11)
Japan experiences inflation for first time in over two years Telegraph (27/5/11)

Data
Japan Inflation Rate Trading Economics
Consumer Price Index (Japan) Japanese Statistics Bureau
Inflation Rate and Consumer Price Index (CPI) (for USA, Canada, Australia, UK and Japan) Rate Inflation
Statistical Annex, Preliminary Version OECD

Questions

  1. What are the main costs of deflation? Think about the wider effects on consumers, businesses and the government.
  2. What has caused the increase in inflation to 0.6% in Japan and why was there an expectation that inflation would re-appear?
  3. What explanation can be given for the belief that deflation will soon re-emerge?
  4. Using a demand and supply diagram, explain the process by which consumers delaying their consumption will lead to prices falling continuously.
  5. What is the best policy for the Japanese central bank to pursue in light of the new data?
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Hoping for a mild winter

The snow the UK has seen over the past two winters created massive disruption, but that is only one reason for hoping for a milder winter to come. With the cold weather, the UK economy faced threats of gas shortages, as households turned on their heating. However, despite the freezing temperatures, many households were forced to turn off their heating regularly, due to the excessive bills they would face. This trend is expected to be even more prevalent if the 2011/12 winter is as cold, as fuel tariffs are predicted to rise. The Bank of England has said that gas and electricity prices could rise this year by 15% and 10% respectively. British Gas’s Parent company, Centrica said:

“In the UK the forward wholesale prices of gas and power for delivery in winter 2011/12 are currently around 25% higher than prices last winter, with end-user prices yet to reflect this higher wholesale market price environment.”

These predictions might see the average UK household paying an extra £148 over the next year. Although these are only estimates, we are still very likely to see many households being forced to turn off their heating. One thing which therefore is certain: a warmer winter would be much appreciated!

Articles
Switch energy tariff to help beat bill rises Guardian, Miles Brignall (14/5/11)
Quarter of households predicted to turn off heating BBC News, Brian Milligan (14/5/11)
Power bills set to soar by 50% in four years Scotsman (14/5/11)
Domestic fuel bills poised to rise by up to £200 Financial Times, Elaine Moore (13/5/11)

Data
Energy price statistics Department of Energy & Climate Change
Energy statistics publications Department of Energy & Climate Change

Questions

  1. Which factors have contributed to rising energy prices? Illustrate these changes on a demand and supply diagram.
  2. To what extent do these higher prices contribute to rising inflation?
  3. What impact might these price rises have on (a) poverty and (b) real income distribution in the UK?
  4. Why are energy prices currently being investigated by Ofgem? What powers does the regulator have and what actions could be taken?
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Eurozone inflationary pressures

Just as the Bank of England has an inflation target of 2%, so does the ECB. UK inflation has been significantly above its target rate for many months and so has the eurozone’s inflation rate, which is up to 2.8% in April from its previous level of 2.7% the previous month. The increase in the general price level has been fuelled by rising costs of raw materials and high energy prices. Whilst interest rates in the UK have remained at 0.5% in a bid to stimulate economic growth, the ECB has increased interest rates by a quarter point to 1.25% and the latest inflation data may be further pressure for further rises. However, any increase in rates will put more pressure on countries such as Greece, Ireland and Portugal who are facing tough austerity measures and may put their recoveries in jeopardy.

The ECB has been optimistic about growth and it may need to be with this and possibly subsequent interest rate hikes, as they are likely to depress aggregate demand. Furthermore, European Commission’s ‘economic sentiment’ indicator has fallen to 106.2, which is the weakest since November. Eurozone unemployment remains at just under 10%, oil prices remain high and this has depressed optimism across the eurozone countries. The euro, meanwhile, continues to strengthen (up 12% against the dollar over the past year) and this has enhanced the fragile state of affairs in those countries suffering from tough austerity measures. An economist at ING has said:

“The combination of high oil prices, a strong euro, and fiscal and monetary tightening has started to dent the economic mood in the euro zone.”

Eurozone inflation rises again Telegraph, Emma Rowley (29/4/11)
Eurozone inflation rate rises to 2.8% BBC News (29/4/11)
Eurozone inflation jumps to 2.8% Financial Times, Ralph Atkins (29/4/11)
Euro zone inflation rises, points to higher ECB rates Reuters, Jan Strupczewski (29/4/11)
Eurozone inflation further above target at 2.8pct The Associated Press (29/4/11)

Questions

  1. What is the relationship between interest rates and inflation. Why have the ECB and the Bank of England reacted differently to rising inflation?
  2. Is the inflation currently being experienced in the Eurozone cost-push or demand-pull? Illustrate your answer with the help of a diagram.
  3. What is the relationship between interest rates and the exchange rate?
  4. Why is there some concern about the ‘economic sentiment’ indicator in the Eurozone?
  5. What is the relationship between interest rates and economic growth? Explain the process by which a change in interest rates could affect AD and then economic growth and employment.
  6. Why is this interest rate rise (and possible further rises) likely to hurt countries, such as Ireland and Greece more than other countries within the Eurozone?
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Precious metals getting even more precious

In the past few weeks, the prices of gold and silver have been soaring and have hit all-time (nominal) highs. Over the past 12 months, gold has risen by 31%, while silver has risen by 149% and 64% since the start of February. Part of this reflects the general rise in commodity prices (see also). Oil is trading at around $125 per barrel, up 43% on a year ago; wheat is up 66%, maize by 114%, coffee (Arabica) by 118% and cotton by 122%.

Part of the reason for the rise in the price of precious metals, however, has been the weakness of the dollar. In such times, gold and silver are often seen as a ‘safe haven’ for investors.

So why have commodity prices been rising and why has the dollar been falling? What is likely to happen to the prices of gold and silver in the coming weeks and months? Is their meteoric rise set to continue? Will the ratio of the gold price to the silver price continue to fall? The following articles investigate.

Articles
Gold and silver prices jump to new record highs BBC News (25/4/11)
Gold rises 7% in April as US dollar continues to weaken BBC News (29/4/11)
Gold and silver set new highs after S&P move Financial Times, Jack Farchy (22/4/11)
Real Interest Rates Explain the Gold Price Perfectly…Too Perfectly? The Market Oracle, Andrew Butter (25/4/11)
Silver, platinum to outshine gold Toronto Sun, Sharon Singleton (25/4/11)
Gold Bugs Beware Of Fed Extermination Forbes blogs: Great Speculations, Mark Sunshine (25/4/11)
Shock and Au: Hedging Against Fear EconomyWatch, Alice Briggs (26/4/11)
Keeping an Eye on the Gold/Silver Ratio Seeking Alpha, Evariste Lefeuvre (25/4/11)

Data
Commodity Prices Index Mundi
Commodities Financial Times
Commodities BBC Market Data

Questions

  1. Why have the prices of gold and silver risen so much recently?
  2. Why has silver risen more than gold?
  3. Why may higher rates of world inflation make investors turn to precious metals for investment?
  4. How are future decisions by the Fed likely to affect the price of gold?
  5. According to the efficient capital markets theory (strong version), the current price of a commodity should already reflect all knowable factors that are likely to affect the price? Does this mean that speculative buying (or selling) is pointless?
  6. How is the price elasticity of supply of silver and gold relevant in explaining the magnitude of their price movements?
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The inflation within inflation

In two recent blogs we have analysed the headache facing the Monetary Policy Committee, given the persistence of inflationary pressures in the UK economy, in deciding whether to raise interest rates. In Food for thought, Elizabeth Jones describes how, despite the weakness of aggregate demand, cost pressures have fuelled inflation while John Sloman in Time for a rise in Bank Rate looks at the difficult judgement call for the MPC in risking a marked dampening of aggregate demand by raising rates while, on the other hand, failing to dampen inflationary expectations by not raising rates. In this blog Dean Garratt analyses some of the latest inflation figures as detailed in the latest Consumer Price Indices Statistical Bulletin. In particular, he focuses on the inflation rates within the overall consumer price inflation rate.

You might be wondering what we mean when we refer to inflation rates within the overall inflation rate. In answering this we need to consider how the Office for National Statistics goes about estimating the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and the CPI inflation rate (further details are available in Consumer Price Indices – A Brief Guide produced by the ONS). In order to compile the Consumer Price Index (CPI), each month an organisation collects on behalf of the ONS something in the region of 110,000 prices quotations for around 560 items. But, the key point is that these goods and services fall into one of 12 broad product groups which are referred to as level 1 product groups. These include, for example, food and non-alcoholic beverages and transport.

The items included in each of the 12 product groups are reviewed once a year so that the chosen items remain representative of today’s spending patterns. Once the price information for our representative goods and services has been collected, the prices are compared with their levels in the previous January and the change recorded. These changes are then aggregated in both each product group and across all groups. The price changes are aggregated by weighting them according to the typical share of household spending that each good or service represents. This process is repeated each month in the year so as to always calculate the aggregate change in prices since January. The final step is to link the price changes with those from earlier years to form one long price index, both for each product group and for the overall shopping basket, so that at one arbitrary moment in time the index takes a value of 100.

Once we have our price indices we can calculate annual rates of price inflation. The annual rate of CPI inflation in December 2010 is recorded at 3.7%. This means that the Consumer Price Index was 3.7% higher in December 2010 than it was December 2009. Similarly, the annual rate of CPI inflation in November 2010 of 3.3% means that consumer prices rose by 3.3% between November 2009 and November 2010. Across 2010 as a whole the CPI rose by 3.3%, so in excess of the Bank of England’s inflation rate target range, and significantly up on the 2.2% across 2009. The Bank has a symmetrical inflation rate target of 2% plus or minus 1 percentage point (you may want to read more about the Bank’s Monetary Policy Framework).

Let’s look to delve deeper because price indices are also available for product groups at two lower levels known as level 2 and level 3 product groups. For example, from within the food and non-alcoholic beverages group there is a price index wholly for food and within this one for vegetables. Again annual rates of price inflation can be found for level 2 and level 3 product groups.

If we consider food and non-alcoholic beverages we find an annual rate of price inflation for December of 6.1%. This was its highest annual rate since May 2009. Across 2010 as a whole we find that prices rose by 3.4%, very much in accordance with the overall CPI inflation rate. Inflationary pressures within this category are not new with 2008 seeing prices rises by 9.1% as compared with 3.6% for the overall CPI inflation rate. Over the past 5 years, food and non-alcoholic beverage inflation has typically been running at an annual rate of 5% while overall consumer price inflation has been running at 2.8%.

If we now focus on food alone, we find an annual rate of food price inflation in December of 5.7%. While this is a little lower than with the inclusion of non-alcoholic beverages, it is nonetheless a full 2 percentage points above the overall CPI inflation rate. Across the year as a whole food price inflation comes in bang on 3% highlighting the extent of the inflationary pressures in more recent months. This, however, still falls some way short of the pressures seen in 2008 when food prices rose by 10.1%. If we drop to level 3 to focus on groups within the food category we find inflation rates for oils and fats of 11%, for fish of 9% and for fruit of 8.6%.

Within the 12 broad groups the highest annual rate of price inflation is currently to be found for transport where the annual rate of price inflation in December was 6.5%. Across 2010, transport prices rose by 8.3% which compares a tad unfavourably with the 0.8% increase seen in 2009. If we drop down to the level 3 groups within this category we can trace the source of the price pressures more readily. The cost of air passenger transport in December was up over 12 months by 13.5% and, you may not be surprised to learn, the cost of fuel and lubricants was up by 12.9%.

We finish by noting the only level 1 category to see prices fall across 2010: clothing and footwear. This product group saw prices fall by 1% in 2010. But, even here price pressures have emerged. Between April 1992 and August 2010 clothing and footwear consistently recorded annual rates of price deflation. Since September this has ceased with positive annual rates of inflation. The annual rate of inflation for clothing and footwear in December was estimated at 1.5%. Perhaps those socks in my bottom drawer really will have to last me just a little bit longer!

Articles
Inflation is a blip says Bootle BBC News (21/1/11)
Fuel prices could rise by 4p in April BBC News (22/1/11)
Paul Lewis: Why inflation is starting to buy BBC News (20/1/11)
High levels of inflation remains a worry for Beijing BBC News (20/1/11)
Inflation ‘biggest money worry for families’ BBC News (19/1/11)
UK inflation rate rises to 3.7% BBC News (18/1/11)
Inflation hysterics Financial Times (19/1/11)
Top investors raise alarm on inflation Financial Times, Richard Milne, Dan McCrum and Robert Cookson (21/1/11) )
Inflation hits 3.7% after record monthly increase Guardian UK, Graeme Wearden (18/1/11)
We knew inflation would be bad, but not this bad Guardian, Larry Elliott (18/1/11)
The mystery of clothes inflation and the formula effect The Economist (21/1/11)

Data
Latest on inflation Office for National Statistics (18/1/11)
Consumer Price Indices, Statistical Bulletin, March 2010 Office for National Statistics (18/1/11)
Consumer Price Indices, Time Series Data Office for National Statistics
For CPI (Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices) data for EU countries, see:
HICP European Central Bank

Questions

  1. Describe the process of compiling the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Are we comparing the cost of the same basket of goods and services across years? What about within a given year? (Further details are available in Consumer Price Indices – A Brief Guide).
  2. Explain the difference between an increase in the level of prices and an increase in the rate of price inflation. Can the rate of price inflation fall even if price levels are rising? Explain your answer.
  3. Why do you think policy-makers, such as the Monetary Policy Committee, would be interested in the inflation rates within the overall CPI inflation rate?
  4. What factors do you think lie behind the pressures on; (i) food prices; (ii) clothes prices; and (iii) transport prices? How would your answers help to inform how you would vote on interest rates if you were on the Monetary Policy Committee?
  5. The following are the consumer price index values for all items, food and non-alcoholic beverages, clothing and footwear and transport in 1988, 2009 and 2010. Use these values to calculate the percentage change between 1988 and 2010 and those between 2009 and 2010. Comment on your findings.
    All items: 1988= 63.5; 2009= 110.8; 2010= 114.5
    Food and non-alcoholic beverages: 1988= 68.2; 2009= 123.2; 2010= 127.4
    Clothing and footwear: 1988= 163.8; 2009= 79.6; 2010= 78.8
    Transport: 1988= 55.4; 2009= 112.7; 2010= 122.1
  6. How serious an economic issue do you think inflation is? Illustrate your answer drawing on real-world examples of the impact of inflation.
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