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Posts Tagged ‘Rate of inflation’

Fuelling the absence of inflation

The latest inflation figures, as detailed in February’s Consumer Price Inflation Statistical Bulletin, show that the annual rate of CPI inflation hit zero in February. This is down from 0.3 per cent in January. While inflation is now well outside the 1-3 per cent target range that the Bank of England is charged with meeting, perhaps a more pertinent question is whether the UK is teetering on the brink of deflation – and the risks that may carry.

To get a better sense of the latest inflation picture we need to delve deeper into the numbers and look at the patterns in the prices that make up the overall Consumer Price Index. Interestingly, these shows that five of the 12 principal product groups that make up the index are currently experiencing price deflation.

As explained in Consumer Price Inflation: The 2015 Basket of Goods and Services, produced by the ONS, around 180,000 prices quotations are collected each month for around 700 representative items. These goods and services fall into one of 12 broad 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. A monthly price index is calculated for these 12 broad groupings, known as divisions, and for sub-categories of these. For example meat is a category within food and non-alcoholic beverages. The overall CPI is a weighted average of the 12 broad groupings.

The annual rate of CPI inflation in February 2015 was zero. This means that the price of the representative basket of goods and services was unchanged from its level in February 2014. As Chart 1 shows (click here for a PowerPoint of the chart), the annual rate of CPI inflation series goes back to January 1989 and this is the first time it has fallen to zero. Its average over this period is in fact 2.7 per cent. The recent fall is quite stark with the rate of CPI inflation in June 2013 close to the top-end of the Bank of England’s target range at 2.9 per cent.

Of the 12 product groups, five constitute 10 per cent or more of the overall weight of the CPI index. These weights are dependent on the relative level of expenditure comprised by each division.

Chart 2 shows the annual rates of inflation for these five groups (click here for a PowerPoint of the chart). The most heavily-weighted component is transport (14.9%), which includes the price of fuel and passenger transport. Here we observe deflation with prices 2.7 per cent lower year-on-year in February. This is the fourth consecutive month where its annual rate of price inflation has been negative.

The second most heavily-weighted component within the CPI index is recreation and culture (14.7%), which includes games, toys and audio-visual equipment. Here too we see the emergence of deflation. In February 2015 prices were 0.8 per cent lower than in February 2014. Deflation is most prevalent in the fifth most heavily-weighted component (11.0%): food and non-alcoholic drinks. The price for this division of the CPI was 3.3 per cent lower in February 2015 as compared with February 2014. In nine of the last ten months the price of food and non-alcoholic drinks, helped by aggressive price competition in the grocery sector, has been lower year-on-year.

February also saw a negative annual rate of inflation emerge for the first time in the CPI division capturing furniture and household equipment and appliances (-0.3 per cent). Further, miscellaneous services, which include personal care and personal effects (e.g. jewellery) saw an annual rate of deflation for the eight consecutive month. The annual rate of inflation for miscellaneous services stood at -0.4 per cent in February. However, February did see an upturn in price inflation for clothing and footwear with prices 1.7 per cent higher than a year earlier while the price of alcohol and tobacco was 3.8 per cent higher year-on-year.

The detailed inflation numbers do reveal the extent to which many CPI divisions are already characterised by deflation. It is interesting to note that in A Comparison of Independent Forecasts published monthly by HM Treasury, the forecast for the final quarter of 2015 is for the annual rate of CPI inflation to be running at 0.8 per cent. An important reason for this is that the effect of falling fuel prices from November 2014 will begin to drop out of the year-on-year inflation rate calculations. The removal of this effect should help to prevent the specter of deflation provided that peoples’ inflationary expectations remain anchored, i.e. exhibit stickiness. If these were to be revised down, however, this would further contribute to downward pressure on prices since input price inflation – including wage inflation – would again be expected to fall.

Articles
U.K. on Brink of Falling Prices as Inflation Rate Drops to Zero Bloomberg, Tom Beardsworth (24/3/15)
UK inflation rate falls to zero in February BBC News (24/3/15)
Britain sees no inflation in February for first time on record Reuters, David Milliken and Andy Bruce (24/3/15)
Inflation hits a record zero boosting household incomes Independent, Clare Hutchinson (24/3/15)
Inflation Hits 0% As Food Costs Fall Further Sky News (24/3/15)
Inflation falls to zero in February as Britain heads to deflation Telegraph, Szu Ping Chan (24/3/15)
UK inflation hits zero for the first time on record Guardian, Angela Monaghan (24/3/15)

Data
Consumer Price Inflation, February 2015 Office for National Statistics
Consumer Price Indices, Time Series Data Office for National Statistics

Questions

  1. Explain the difference between a decrease in the level of prices and a decrease in the rate of price inflation. Can the rate of price inflation rise even if price levels are falling? Explain your answer
  2. Explain what is meant by deflation.
  3. In what ways might deflation affect the behaviour of people? What effect could this have on the macroeconomy?
  4. 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?
  5. What factors do you think lie behind the fall in the transport component of the CPI?
  6. Explain why the rate of inflation would be expected to rise in the late autumn, a year on from when the transport component of the CPI began falling.
  7. Does the possibility of deflation mean that inflation rate targeting has failed?
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Oil and VAT cook up inflation headache

For some, thoughts will have turned to events on football pitches in South Africa. Perhaps though we should spare a thought for the Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, who is likely to be concerned by his own team’s recent performance in missing the inflation rate target! Mervyn’s resulting ‘yellow card’ involves writing a letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer every time the annual rate of CPI (Consumer Price Index) inflation deviates by more than one percentage point from the government’s central target of 2%. Unfortunately for the Governor, since the turn of the year, only in February has the annual rate of CPI inflation failed to exceed 3%. And, even that was within in a whisker of missing the goal since the rate of inflation squeaked in at 3%. Perhaps February was more a case of hitting the post!

As all sports fans know, a run of disappointing results can lead to dissent amongst players and supporters alike. We can see from the minutes of June’s meeting of the Monetary Policy Committee the extent of the debate over the persistence of inflation. The debate included discussions concerning the impact of the expected fiscal consolidation measures (the MPC met before the Budget), the public’s higher inflation rate expectations, the price of oil and other commodities and the margin of spare capacity in the economy (the output gap). The minutes reveal that one member of the MPC, Andrew Sentance, voted for an increase in interest rates believing that inflation had been particularly resilient in the aftermath of the recession.

We now have new forecaster in town: The Office of Budget Responsibility. In our blog article Who’d be a forecaster? A taxing time for the new OBR we looked at the growth forecasts produced by the Office of Budget Responsibility taking into account the Budget Measures of 22 June. The June 2010 OBR Budget forecasts also contain predictions for CPI inflation. So what do the OBR say?

The OBR predicts that the annual rate of CPI inflation will stay around 3% in the near term. It is now slightly more pessimistic about the prospects for inflation beyond the near term than it was in its pre-Budget forecasts. More specifically, it says that CPI inflation will ‘decline more gradually’ than first thought because of the rise in the standard rate of VAT to 20% in January 2001 and its belief that oil prices will be higher than originally envisaged. The OBR is forecasting the average price of a barrel of oil in 2010/11 to be $78 rising to $82 in 2011/12.

Going further ahead, the OBR expects the rate of inflation to fall back to ‘a little under 2 per cent in early 2012’. It argues that this will reflect the unwinding of the VAT effect, and, significantly, the downward pressure on prices from the larger negative output gap that will result from the fiscal consolidation measures in the Budget. In other words, the expectation is that there will be greater slack or spare capacity in the economy which will help to subdue price pressures.

If the OBR is right, the Governor may have more letter-writing to do in the near term and perhaps well into 2011. But, the fiscal consolidation measures should, once the impact of the VAT rise on the inflation figures ‘drops out’, see the rate of inflation fall back. Perhaps then, the final whistle can be blown on the Governor’s inflation troubles. In the mean time it will be interesting to see how MPC members take on board, in their deliberations over interest rates, the Budget measures and the OBR’s own thoughts on inflation. Could interest rates be rising shortly despite fiscal consolidation? Let Mervyn and his team play on!

OBR Forecasts
Budget Forecast June 2010 OBR (22/6/10)
Pre-Budget Forecast June 2010 OBR (14/6/10)

Monetary Policy Committee
Overview of the Monetary Policy Committee
Monetary Policy Committee Minutes

Inflation Data
Latest on inflation Office for National Statistics (15/6/10)
Consumer Price Indices, Statistical Bulletin, May 2010 Office for National Statistics (15/6/10)
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

Articles
MPC minutes reveal Bank split on inflation risk Financial Times, Daniel Pimlott (23/6/10)
Bank of England minutes reveal surprise split on interest rates Guardian, Katie Allen (23/6/10)
Instant view: Bank split 7-1 on June vote Reuters UK (23/6/10)
Now even the Bank isn’t sure it can bring down inflation Independent, Sean O’Grady (24/6/10)
An inflation hawk hovers over the Bank of England Guardian, Nils Pratley (24/6/10)

Questions

  1. Explain why an output gap – the amount of spare capacity in the economy – might impact on price pressures.
  2. What impact would you expect the rise in the standard rate of VAT next January to have on the CPI (price level) and on the CPI inflation rate? What about the following year?
  3. Some economists believe that by being more aggressive in cutting the fiscal deficit, interest rates will be lower than they otherwise would have been. Evaluate this argument.
  4. Now for your turn to be a member of the MPC and to decide on interest rates! How would you vote next month? Are you a ‘dove’ or a ‘hawk’?
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