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Posts Tagged ‘demand-pull inflation’

A portent of tighter monetary policy in the UK?

On the 15th June, the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee decided to keep Bank Rate on hold at its record low of 0.25%. This was not a surprise – it was what commentators had expected. What was surprising, however, was the split in the MPC. Three of its current eight members voted to raise the rate.

At first sight, raising the rate might seem the obvious thing to do. CPI inflation is currently 2.9% – up from 2.7% in April and well above the target of 2% – and is forecast to go higher later this year. According to the Bank of England’s own forecasts, even at the 24-month horizon inflation is still likely to be a little above the 2% target.

Those who voted for an increase of 0.25 percentage points to 0.5% saw it as modest, signalling only a very gradual return to more ‘normal’ interest rates. However, the five who voted to keep the rate at 0.25% felt that it could dampen demand too much.

The key argument is that inflation is not of the demand-pull variety. Aggregate demand is subdued. Real wages are falling and hence consumer demand is likely to fall too. Thus many firms are cautious about investing, especially given the considerable uncertainties surrounding the nature of Brexit. The prime cause of the rise in inflation is the fall in sterling since the Brexit vote and the effect of higher import costs feeding through into retail prices. In other words, the inflation is of the cost-push variety. In such cirsumstances dampening demand further by raising interest rates would be seen by most economists as the wrong response. As the minutes of the MPC meeting state:

Attempting to offset fully the effect of weaker sterling on inflation would be achievable only at the cost of higher unemployment and, in all likelihood, even weaker income growth. For this reason, the MPC’s remit specifies that, in such exceptional circumstances, the Committee must balance any trade-off between the speed at which it intends to return inflation sustainably to the target and the support that monetary policy provides to jobs and activity.

The MPC recognises that the outlook is uncertain. It states that it stands ready to respond to circumstances as they change. If demand proves to be more resilient that it currently expects, it will raise Bank Rate. If not, it is likely to keep it on hold to continue providing a modest stimulus to the economy. However, it is unlikely to engage in further quantitative easing unless the economic outlook deteriorates markedly.

Articles
The Bank of England is moving closer to killing the most boring chart in UK finance right now Business Insider, Will Martin (16/6/17)
UK inflation hits four-year high of 2.9% Financial Times, Gavin Jackson and Chloe Cornish (13/6/17)
Surprise for markets as trio of Bank of England gurus call for interest rates to rise The Telegraph, Szu Ping Chan Tim Wallace (15/6/17)
Bank of England rate setters show worries over rising inflation Financial TImes, Chris Giles (15/6/17)
Three Bank of England policymakers in shock vote for interest rate rise Independent, Ben Chu (15/6/17)
Bank of England edges closer to increasing UK interest rates The Guardian, Katie Allen (15/6/17)
Bank of England doves right to thwart hawks seeking interest rate rise The Guardian, Larry Elliott (15/6/17)
Haldane expects to vote for rate rise this year BBC News (21/6/17)

Bank of England documents
Monetary policy summary Bank of England (15/6/17)
Monetary Policy Summary and minutes of the Monetary Policy Committee meeting ending on 14 June 2017 Bank of England (15/6/17)
Inflation Report, May 2017 Bank of England (11/5/16)

Questions

  1. What is the mechanism whereby a change in Bank Rate affects other interest artes?
  2. Use an aggregate demand and supply diagram to illustrate the difference between demand-pull and cost-push inflation.
  3. If the exchange rate remains at around 10–15% below the level before the Brexit vote, will inflation continue to remain above the Bank of England’s target, or will it reach a peak relatively soon and then fall back? Explain.
  4. For what reason might aggregate demand prove more buoyant that the MPC predicts?
  5. Would a rise in Bank Rate from 0.25% to 0.5% have a significant effect on aggregate demand? What role could expectations play in determining the nature and size of the effect?
  6. Why are real wage rates falling at a time when unemployment is historically very low?
  7. What determines the amount that higher prices paid by importers of products are passed on to consumers?
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Rising inflation

The latest figures from the ONS show that UK inflation rose to 2.3% for the 12 months to February 2017 – up from 1.9% for the 12 months to January. The rate is the highest since September 2013 and has steadily increased since late 2015.

The main price index used to measure inflation is now CPIH, as opposed to CPI. CPIH is the consumer prices index (CPI) adjusted for housing costs and is thus a more realsitic measure of the cost pressures facing households. As the ONS states:

CPIH extends the consumer prices index (CPI) to include a measure of the costs associated with owning, maintaining and living in one’s own home, known as owner occupiers’ housing costs (OOH), along with Council Tax. Both of these are significant expenses for many households and are not included in the CPI.

But why has inflation risen so significantly? There are a number of reasons.

The first is a rise in transport costs (contributing 0.15 percentage points to the overall inflation rate increase of 0.4 percentage points). Fuel prices rose especially rapidly, reflecting both the rise in the dollar price of oil and the depreciation of the pound. In February 2016 the oil price was $32.18; in February 2017 it was $54.87 – a rise of 70.5%. In February 2016 the exchange rate was £1 = $1.43; in February 2017 it was £1 = $1.25 – a depreciation of 12.6%.

The second biggest contributor to the rise in inflation was recreation and culture (contributing 0.08 percentage points). A wide range of items in this sector, including both goods and services, rose in price. ‘Notably, the price of personal computers (including laptops and tablets) increased by 2.3% between January 2017 and February 2017.’ Again, a large contributing factor has been the fall in the value of the pound. Apple, for example, raised its UK app store prices by a quarter in January, having raised prices for iPhones, iPads and Mac computers significantly last autumn. Microsoft has raised its prices by more than 20% this year for software services such as Office and Azure. Dell, HP and Tesla have also significantly raised their prices.

The third biggest was food and non-alcoholic beverages (contributing 0.06 percentage points). ‘Food prices, overall, rose by 0.8% between January 2017 and February 2017, compared with a smaller rise of 0.1% a year earlier.’ Part of the reason has been the fall in the pound, but part has been poor harvests in southern Europe putting up euro prices. This is the first time that overall food prices have risen for more than two-and-a-half years.

It is expected that inflation will continue to rise over the coming months as the effect of the weaker pound and higher raw material and food prices filter though. The current set of pressures could see inflation peaking at around 3%. If there is a futher fall in the pound or further international price increases, inflation could be pushed higher still – well above the Bank of England’s 2% target. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart.)

The higher inflation means that firms are facing a squeeze on their profits from two directions.

First, wage rises have been slowing and are now on a level with consumer price rises. It is likely that wage rises will soon drop below price rises, meaning that real wages will fall, putting downward pressure on spending and squeezing firms’ revenue.

Second, input prices are rising faster than consumer prices. In the 12 months to February 2017, input prices (materials and fuels) rose by 19.1%, putting a squeeze on producers. Producer prices (‘factory gate prices’), by contrast, rose by 3.7%. Even though input prices are only part of the costs of production, the much smaller rise of 3.7% reflects the fact that producer’s margins have been squeezed. Retailers too are facing upward pressure on costs from this 3.7% rise in the prices of products they buy from producers.

One of the worries about the squeeze on real wages and the squeeze on profits is that this could dampen investment and slow both actual and potential growth.

So will the Bank of England respond by raising interest rates? The answer is probably no – at least not for a few months. The reason is that the higher inflation is not the result of excess demand and the economy ‘overheating’. In other words, the higher inflation is not from demand-pull pressures. Instead, it is from higher costs, which are in themselves likely to dampen demand and contribute to a slowdown. Raising interest rates would cause the economy to slow further.

Videos
UK inflation shoots above two percent, adding to Bank of England conundrum Reuters, William Schomberg, David Milliken and Richard Hunter (21/3/17)
Bank target exceeded as inflation rate rises to 2.3% ITV News, Chris Choi (21/3/17)
Steep rise in inflation Channel 4 News, Siobhan Kennedy (21/3/17)
U.K. Inflation Gains More Than Forecast, Breaching BOE Goal Bloomberg, Dan Hanson and Fergal O’Brien (21/3/17)

Articles
Inflation leaps in February raising prospect of interest rate rise The Telegraph, Julia Bradshaw (21/3/17)
Brexit latest: Inflation jumps to 2.3 per cent in February Independent, Ben Chu (21/3/17)
UK inflation rate leaps to 2.3% BBC News (21/3/17)
UK inflation: does it matter for your income, debts and savings? Financial Times, Chris Giles (21/3/17)
Rising food and fuel prices hoist UK inflation rate to 2.3% The Guardian, Katie Allen (21/3/17)
Reality Check: What’s this new measure of inflation? BBC News (21/3/17)

Data
UK consumer price inflation: Feb 2017 ONS Statistical Bulletin (21/3/17)
UK producer price inflation: Feb 2017 ONS Statistical Bulletin (21/3/17)
Inflation and price indices ONS datasets
Consumer Price Inflation time series dataset ONS datasets
Producer Price Index time series dataset ONS datasets
European Brent Spot Price US Energy Information Administration
Statistical Interactive Database – interest & exchange rates data Bank of England

Questions

  1. If pries rise by 10% and then stay at the higher level, what will happen to inflation (a) over the next 12 months; (b) in 13 months’ time?
  2. Distinguish between demand-pull and cost-push inflation. Why are they associated with different effects on output?
  3. If producers face rising costs, what determines their ability to pass them on to retailers?
  4. Why is the rate of real-wage increase falling, and why may it beome negative over the coming months?
  5. What categories of people are likely to lose the most from inflation?
  6. What is the Bank of England’s remit in terms of setting interest rates?
  7. What is likely to affect the sterling exchange rate over the coming months?
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Negative inflation or deflation? What’s the UK experiencing?

The CPI index fell by 0.1% in the 12 months to April 2015. This is partly the result of lower air and sea fares, as the upward ‘blip’ in these fares at Easter last year was not present in mid-April this year as Easter fell outside the period when the statistics are collected. What is more significant is that fuel, commodity and retail food prices have fallen over the past 12 months, and the exchange rate has risen, especially against the euro.

But how do we define what’s happened and how significant is it? It might seem highly significant as it’s the first time in 55 years that the CPI has fallen over a 12-month period. In fact, the effect is likely to be temporary, as fuel prices are now rising again and commodity prices generally are beginning to rise too. What is more, the pound seems to have peaked against the euro. Thus although aggregate demand remains relatively dampened, the main causes of falling prices and potential rises in the coming months are largely to be found on the cost side. This then brings us on to the definition of a falling CPI.

A falling CPI over a 12-month period can be defined as negative inflation. This is unambiguous. But is this ‘deflation’? The problem with the term ‘deflation’ is that it is ambiguous. On the one hand it can be defined simply as negative inflation. In that case, by definition, the UK has experienced deflation. But on the other, it is used to describe a situation of persistent falling prices as a result of declining aggregate demand.

If an economy suffers from deflation in this second sense, the problem can be very serious. Persistent falling prices are likely to discourage consumers from spending on durables (such as fridges, TVs, cars and furniture) and firms from buying capital equipment. After all, why buy an item now if, by waiting, you can get it cheaper later on? This mentality of waiting to spend leads to falling aggregate demand and hence falling output. It also leads to even lower prices. In other words deflation can get worse: a deflationary spiral.

If we define deflation in this second, much more serious sense, then the UK is not suffering deflation – merely temporary negative inflation. In fact, with prices now falling (slightly) and wages rising at around 2% per year, there should be an increase in aggregate demand, which will help to drive the recovery.

Videos
Should Britain Panic Over Negative Inflation? Sky News, Ed Conway (20/5/15)
UK inflation negative for first time since 1960; BoE says temporary Reuters, Andy Bruce and William Schomberg (19/5/15)
UK inflation negative for the first time since 1960 CNBC, Dhara Ranasinghe (19/5/15)

Articles
UK inflation rate turns negative BBC News (19/5/15)
Why there’s little to fear as the spectre of deflation descends on UK The Telegraph, Szu Ping Chan (19/5/15)
UK inflation turns negative The Guardian, Katie Allen (19/5/15)
Is the UK in the early stages of deflation? The Guardian, Larry Elliott (19/5/15)
Is the UK in deflation or negative inflation? Q&A The Guardian, Katie Allen and Patrick Collinson (19/5/15)
Market View: Economists unconcerned on temporary deflation FT Adviser, Peter Walker (19/5/15)

Questions

  1. Is negative inflation ever a ‘bad thing’?
  2. Explain the movement in UK inflation rates over the past five years.
  3. How do changes in exchange rates impact on (a) inflation; (b) aggregate demand? Does it depend on what caused the changes in exchange rates in the first place?
  4. Why is the current period of negative inflation likely to be short-lived?
  5. Would you describe the negative inflation as negative cost-push inflation?
  6. What factors could change that might make negative inflation more persistent and raise the spectre of deflation (in its bad sense)?
  7. If inflation remains persistently below 2%, what can the Bank of England do, given current interest rates, to bring inflation back to the 2% target?
  8. What is meant by ‘core inflation’ and what has been happening to it in recent months?
  9. What global factors are likely to have (a) an upward; (b) a downward effect on UK inflation?
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A crude indicator of the economy (Part 1)

Oil prices have been plummeting in recent months. Indeed, many commentators are saying that this is the major economics news story of 2014. In June 2014 Brent crude was around $112 per barrel. By December the price has fallen to around $60 – a fall of 46%. But what are the implications for fuel prices?

Just because the crude oil price has fallen by 46%, this does not mean that prices at the pump should do the same. Oil is priced in dollars and the pound has depreciated against the dollar by just over 7% since June, from around £1 = $1.69 to around £1 = $1.57. Thus in sterling terms, crude oil has fallen by only 42%.

More significantly, the cost of crude is a relatively small percentage of the price of a litre of petrol. At a price of 132p per litre (the July average price), crude accounted for around 27% of the price, or around 36p per litre. At a price of 114p per litre, the price in late December, crude accounts for around 19% of the price, or around 21.5p per litre. The largest element of price is fuel duty, which is charged at a flat rate of 57.95p per litre. In addition there is VAT at 20% of the pre-VAT price (or 16.67% of the retail price). Finally there are the refining, distribution and retail costs and margins, but these together account for only around 16p per litre.

What this means is that the 46% cut in oil prices has led to a cut in petrol prices of only around 14%. If petrol prices were to reach £1 per litre, as some commentators have forecast, crude oil prices would have to fall to under $40 per barrel.

Although petrol and diesel prices have fallen by a smaller percentage than oil prices, this still represents a significant cut in motoring and transport costs. It also represents a significant cut in costs for the petrochemical industry and other industries using large amounts of oil.

For oil-importing countries this is good news as the fall in the oil price represents an increase in real incomes. For oil importing countries, and especially those such as Russia and some OPEC countries where oil constitutes a large proportion of their exports, it is bad news. We explore these effects in Part 2.

Videos
UK petrol prices hit four-year low BBC News, John Moyland (10/12/14)
Petrol prices plunge ahead of Christmas holidays Belfast Telegraph (19/12/14)
Petrol price plummet – could fuel drop to below a pound a litre in the New Year? Channel 5 News on YouTube (17/12/14)

Articles
UK motorists benefit from petrol price drop Financial Times, Michael Kavanagh (23/12/14)
Petrol to drop to £1 a litre, says Goldman Sachs The Telegraph, Szu Ping Chan (9/12/14)
Oil prices: How low will they go in 2015? International Business Times, Shane Croucher (22/12/14)
Plummeting oil price may lead to petrol falling below £1 a litre RAC news (17/12/14)
Pump Prices: Cheap Petrol Comes With A Warning Sky News (19/12/14)

Data and information
Fuel prices in Europe Drive Alive (20/12/14)
Weekly road fuel prices Department of Energy & Climate Change (23/12/14)
Prices at the pump – why are they falling and will this continue? ONS (18/12/14)
Fuel Prices Explained RAC
UKPIA Statistical Review 2014 United Kingdom Petroleum Industry Association

Questions

  1. Why does the price of petrol fluctuate less in percentage terms than the price of crude oil?
  2. What factors will affect whether UK petrol prices fall to £1 per litre?
  3. If crude oil prices fell by 20%, in which of these two cases would there be a bigger percentage fall in petrol prices: (a) petrol price currently 140p; (b) petrol price currently 110p? Explain.
  4. Distinguish between a specific tax and an ad valorem tax. Which of these is (a) fuel duty; (b) VAT? Illustrate your answer with a supply and demand diagram.
  5. What determines the price elasticity of demand for petrol and diesel? Is the long-run elasticity likely to be higher or lower than the short-run elasticity? Explain.
  6. Distinguish between demand-pull and cost-push inflation. Given that oil price changes are correlated to inflation, would you characterise recent falls in inflation as reductions in demand-pull or cost-push pressures, or both: (a) in a specific oil-importing country; (b) globally?
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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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The growing Bank of England inflation remit

The Bank of England was granted independence to set interest rates back in 1997. This is known as instrument independence. However, the remit is set by the government and so it does not have goal independence. Amongst the policy announcements on Budget day (Wed 20 March), the government detailed amendments to the Bank’s remit. In particular, the remit now more explicitly acknowledges that, in exceptional circumstances, the Bank might need to pay more attention to output variability.

Despite the amendments to its remit, the Bank of England continues to have a forward-looking operational inflation rate target of 2 per cent (with a range of tolerance of up to 1 percentage point). The MPC therefore sets the Bank Rate, i.e. the rate at which it engages in short-term lending to financial institutions, to affect general interest rates in the economy. In turn, the level of interest rates is assumed to affect the level of aggregate demand and, hence, the rate of demand-pull inflation as well as inflation rate expectations.

A key economic benefit of delegating interest rate decisions to the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) is thought to be lower inflation rate expectations. By granting the Bank of England operational or instrument independence, inflation announcements have a credibility that they would not if monetary policy was under the control of elected politicians. So why change the inflation rate remit?

The government remains of the view that inflation rate targeting has served the UK well, despite inflation being persistently above target for the past three years (see chart: click here for a PowerPoint). However, it has sought to clarify how the Bank of England might be expected to behave in exceptional circumstances when the economy is buffeted by shocks and disturbances, such as those that it has faced following the financial crisis of the late 2000s. The government argues that in such circumstances the output volatility that could result by ensuring that inflation remains on target could be undesirable. Therefore, the MPC should give consideration to the volatility of output that targeting inflation would cause in such exceptional circumstances.

The amended remit says that in setting monetary policy the MPC should communicate to the public the trade-offs that are inherent in meeting its forward-looking inflation rate target. Therefore, during exceptional times, the Bank may communicate that the volatility of output resulting from returning inflation to target would be so large that it is prepared to keep monetary policy looser than it otherwise would. This could mean indicating a time-frame over which it would be expected to keep interest rates lower than otherwise. By communicating this, it would in effect be looking to affect peoples’ expectations and, importantly, their behaviour. The prospect of prolonged low interest rates, such as those currently being experienced, might encourage greater expenditure, especially as a result of lower borrowing costs – though of course this is not guaranteed!

The Governor will continue to write an open letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer if inflation moves away from the target by more than 1 percentage point in either direction. However, in a change to the previous remit, this will be done in conjunction with the minutes of the MPC meeting that follow the publication of the official inflation figures by the Office for National Statistics. By publishing the letter alongside the minutes, it gives the MPC more time to consider its strategy and to give due consideration to the trade-offs in returning inflation to the target. If inflation remains more than 1 percentage point above or below the target the Governor will need to write a further letter after three months. This letter would be alongside the minutes of the third subsequent meeting of the MPC.

Some commentators argue that the amended remit is merely a reflection of the current reality. In other words, the remit is being rewritten in a way which reflects how the MPC is currently making its interest rate decisions. Others are concerned that what was a simple and clear objective is now not the case and that this may have implications for the credibility of monetary policy. Whatever the rights and wrongs, Wednesday’s announcement was an important development in the history of central bank independence in the UK.

Documents
Remit for the Monetary Policy Committee Bank of England, March 2013
Governor Response to the remit for the Monetary Policy Committee Bank of England , March 2013

Articles
Bank of England handed new remit in Osbourne’s budget Guardian, Josephine Moulds (20/3/13)
Budget: Changing the Bank of England Remit Sky News, Ed Conway (20/3/13)
Budget 2013: Bank of England’s monetary policy remit changed Telegraph, Angela Monaghan (20/3/13)
King warns against ‘major change’ to Bank’s remit ITV News (15/3/13)
Chancellor adjusts Bank of England inflation remit Financial Times, Nick Reeve (20/3/13)
Budget 2013: Bank of England gets new orders BBC News (20/3/13)

Questions

  1. Why would monetary policy be expected to be more credible under an independent central bank?
  2. How might a lack of credibility over monetary policy affect the economy’s rate of inflation?
  3. Outline the advantages and disadvantages of the changes to the Bank of England’s remit.
  4. Central bank independence constrains discretion over monetary policy. Should governments constrain their discretion over fiscal policy? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
  5. Explain how the MPC tries to affect the rate of inflation through changes in the Bank Rate?
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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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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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