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.
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)
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)
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
- 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?
- Distinguish between demand-pull and cost-push inflation. Why are they associated with different effects on output?
- If producers face rising costs, what determines their ability to pass them on to retailers?
- Why is the rate of real-wage increase falling, and why may it beome negative over the coming months?
- What categories of people are likely to lose the most from inflation?
- What is the Bank of England’s remit in terms of setting interest rates?
- What is likely to affect the sterling exchange rate over the coming months?
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?
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)
Bank of Japan Statistics Bank of Japan
Statistics Statistics Bureau of Japan
International sites for data Economics Network
- 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?
- In the Japanese context, is inflation wholly desirable or are there any undesirable consequences?
- Consider whether a two-year time frame is realistic for the the Bank of Japan to achieve its 2% inflation target.
- 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.
- 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)?
What will happen to interest rates over the next two or three years? There is considerable disagreement between economists on this question at the moment.
There are those who argue that recovery in the UK, the USA and Europe is faltering. With much tighter fiscal policy being adopted as countries attempt to claw down their deficits, there is a growing fear of a double-dip recession. In these circumstances central banks are likely to keep interest rates at their historically low levels for the foreseeable future and could well embark on a further round of quantitative easing (see Easy money from the Fed?). But what about inflation? With demand still expanding in developing countries and commodity prices rising, won’t cost pressures on inflation continue? Those who forecast that interest rates will stay low, argue that the pressure on commodity prices will ease as global demand slows. Also, in the UK, now that sterling is no longer depreciating, this will remove a key ingredient of higher inflation.
These views are not shared by other economists. They argue that interest rates could soar over the next two years. In fact, one economist, Andrew Lilico, the Chief Economist at Policy Exchange argues that interest rates in the UK will reach 8% by 2012. Central to their argument is the role of the money supply. The monetary base has been expanded enormously through programmes of quantitative easing. And yet, consumer credit has fallen. When the economy does eventually start to recover strongly, Lilico and others argue that there is a danger that consumer credit and broad money will expand rapidly, thereby fuelling inflation. But won’t the spare capacity that has built up during the recession allow the increase in aggregate demand to be met by a corresponding increase in output, thereby keeping inflation low. No, say these economists. A lot of capacity has been lost and output cannot easily expand to meet a rise in demand.
It’s not uncommon for economists to disagree! See, by reading the articles below, if you can unpick the arguments and establish where the disagreements lie and whose case is the strongest.
America’s century is over, but it will fight on Guardian, Larry Elliott (23/8/10)
Rates to remain low for foreseeable future Interactive Investor, Rhian Nicholson (18/8/10)
BoE gets benefit of doubt on inflation – for now Reuters, Christina Fincher (19/8/10)
BGilts reflect continued uncertainty AXA Elevate, Tomas Hirst (23/8/10)
A bull market in pessimism The Economist (19/8/10)
Interest rates ‘may hit 8%’ by 2012 says think tank BBC News (22/8/10)
Interest rates ‘may hit 8pc’ in two years Telegraph, Philip Aldrick (21/8/10)
Bernanke Must Raise Benchmark Rate 2 Points, Rajan Says Bloomberg, Scott Lanman and Simon Kennedy (23/8/10)
Inflation, not deflation, Mr. Bernanke Market Watch, Andy Xie (22/8/10)
Inflation comes through the door and wisdom flies out of the window Telegraph, Liam Halligan (21/8/10)
British Government Securities, Yields Bank of England
Bankstats: Data on UK money and lending Bank of England
- Summarise the arguments of those who believe that interest rates will stay low for the foreseeable future.
- Summarise the arguments of those who believe that interest rates will be significantly higher by 2010.
- What factors will be the most significant in determining which of the two positions is correct?
- Why are the yields on long-term bonds a good indicator of people’s expectations about future inflation and monetary policy?
- Why has consumer credit fallen? Why might it rise again?
- Why may unemployment not fall rapidly as the economy recovers? Is this an example of hysteresis?
Inflation’s rising again! After a year of falling inflation, with CPI inflation being below the Bank of England’s target of 2% since June 2009, inflation began rising again in October 2009 and then shot up in December. In the year to November 2009, CPI inflation was 1.9%. In the year to December it had risen to 2.9% – well above the 2% target. As the National Statistics article states, however:
This record increase is due to a number of exceptional events that took place in December 2008:
the reduction in the standard rate of Value Added Tax (VAT) to 15 per cent from 17.5 per cent
sharp falls in the price of oil
pre-Christmas sales as a result of the economic downturn
These exceptional events led to the CPI falling by 0.4 per cent between November and December 2008 (a record fall between these two months). The CPI increase between November and December 2009 of 0.6 per cent is far more typical (the CPI increased by 0.6 per cent between November and December in both 2006 and 2007). These exceptional events also affected the change in the RPI annual rate.
So what should the Bank of England do? 2.9% is well above the target of 2%. So should the Monetary Policy Committee raise interest rates at its next meeting? The answer is no. Although inflation is above target, the Bank of England is concerned with predicted inflation in 24 months’ time. Almost certainly, the rate of inflation will fall back as the special factors, such as the increase in VAT back to 17.5% and earlier falls in VAT and oil prices, fall out of the annual data.
What is more, the sudden rise in CPI inflation is almost entirely due to cost-push factors, not demand-pull ones. Rises in costs have a dampening effect on demand. Raising interest rates in these circumstances would further dampen demand – the last thing you want to do as the economy is beginning a fragile recovery from recession.
The Bank of England’s policy recognises that the prime determinant of inflation over the medium term is aggregate demand relative to potential output. For this reason it doesn’t respond to temporary supply-side (cost) shocks.
Avoid false alarm over UK inflation Financial Times (20/1/10)
Oh dear. Inflation is back again Telegraph, Jeremy Warner (19/1/10)
Mervyn King confident on inflation target Times Online, Grainne Gilmore (19/1/10)
How should we remember 2009? As the year the Bank of England’s inflation target died Telegraph, Jeremy Warner (20/1/10)
An embarrassing bungee-jump The Economist (21/1/10)
Priced in BBC News, Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders’ blog (19/1/10)
This MPC is not fit for purpose New Statesman, David Blanchflower (21/1/10)
Jobs joy takes sting out of inflation misery Sunday Times, David Smith (24/1/10)
For CPI inflation data, see Consumer Prices Index (CPI) National Statistics
- For what reasons might inflation be expected to fall back to 2% later in the year?
- Does the rise in inflation to 2.9% put pressure on the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) to raise interest rates? Explain why or why not.
- What factors is the MPC likely to consider at its February meeting when deciding whether or not to embark on a further round of quantitative easing?
- What effects has the depreciation of sterling had on inflation? Explain whether this effect is likely to continue and what account of it should be taken by the MPC when setting interest rates.
- What is meant by ‘core inflation’? Why did this rise to 2.8% in December 2009?
- What is the role of expectations in determining (a) inflation and (b) real GDP in 24 months’ time?
- Why, according to David Blanchflower, is the MPC not ‘fit for purpose’?
Inflationary expectations can be an important determinant of the actual level of inflation and so the Bank of England monitor people’s perceptions of inflation closely. Expectations of inflation are currently at their highest level in eight years.
||Explain the transmission mechanism by which higher inflationary expectations are translated into inflation.
||What are the key determinants of inflationary expectations?
||Discuss strategies that (a) the Bank of England and (b) the government can adopt to reduce inflationary expectations.