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Posts Tagged ‘VAT and inflation’

The art of letter writing lives on

Letter writing has, in many walks of life, rather gone out of fashion. For instance, many of us of a slightly older disposition remember how putting pen to paper was an important part of courtship and the building of relationships. Well, one modern-day couple who are getting very used to an exchange of letters is the Governor of the Bank of England and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The latest inflation numbers from the Office for National Statistics show that the annual rate of CPI inflation for July was 3.1%. While the inflation rate is down from the 3.2% recorded in June it remains more than 1 percentage point above the government’s central inflation rate target of 2%. Consequently, Mervyn King will again be writing to the Chancellor to explain why this is the case.

Since the turn of the year, the annual rate of CPI inflation has, with the exception of February, been consistently above 3%. Even February was a narrow escape for the Governor because inflation came in at exactly 3%! Another way of putting the recent inflation record into perspective is to note that over the first seven months of 2010 the average annual rate of CPI inflation has been 3.3%.

The slight fall in July’s annual inflation rate is attributed, in part, to falls during July in the prices of second-hand cars and petrol whereas these prices were rising a year ago. Furthermore, the average price of clothing and footwear fell by some 4.9% between June and July of this year as compared with a fall of 3.2% in the same period a year ago. The result is that the annual rate of price deflation for clothing and footwear went from 1.4% in June to 3.1% in July.

Of course, within the basket of consumer goods price patterns can vary significantly. One significant upward pressure on July’s overall annual inflation rate was the price of food and non-alcoholic beverages, especially vegetables. The average price of food and non-alcoholic beverages rose by 1% between June and July which has seen the annual rate of price inflation for food and non-alcoholic beverages rise from 1.9% in June to 3.4% in July.

The fact that July shows inflation running in excess of 3% will surprise very few. In the latest Inflation Report the Bank of England reports that the Monetary Policy Committee’s view is that ‘the forthcoming increase in VAT was expected to keep CPI inflation above the 2% target until the end of 2011’. The Committee then expects what it describes as a ‘persistent margin of spare capacity’ to force inflation to fall back. But, the Committee also feels that the prospects for inflation are ‘highly uncertain’. Therefore, it is difficult to gauge just how many more letters will be passing across London between the Governor and the Chancellor in the coming months. Nonetheless, it would be probably be advisable for the Governor to make sure that he has a sufficient supply of postage stamps at his disposal, just in case!

Articles
UK inflation rate slows again in July BBC News (17/8/10)
Bank of England’s King forced to write another letter to Osborne as prices stay high Telegraph (17/8/10)
Inflation falls to 3.1% in July Financial Times, Daniel Pimlott (17/8/10)
Dearer food keeps inflation high UK Press Association (17/8/10)
Bank ‘surprised’ at inflation strength Independent, Russell Lynch (17/8/10)

Letters
Letter from the Governor to the Chancellor and the Chancellor’s reply Bank of England (17/8/10)

Data
Latest on inflation Office for National Statistics (17/8/10)
Consumer Price Indices, Statistical Bulletin, July 2010 Office for National Statistics (17/8/10)
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

Questions

  1. What does the Bank of England mean by a ‘persistent margin of spare capacity’? By what economic term is this phenomenon more commonly known?
  2. Why do you think the current rate of inflation is above target despite the spare capacity in the economy?
  3. Since the annual rate of CPI inflation remains in ‘letter-writing territory’ would you expect the Monetary Policy Committee to be raising interest rates some time soon? Explain your answer.
  4. What impact might the persistence of above-target inflation have for the public’s expectations of inflation?
  5. What impact can we expect the increase in the standard rate of VAT next January to have on the annual rate of CPI inflation? Is such an effect on the rate of inflation a permanent one?
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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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