In March 2009, the Bank of England’s base rate was slashed to 0.5% in a bid to boost aggregate demand and stimulate the UK economy. Since then it has remained at the same level. Interest rates are used by the Bank of England, which aims to keep inflation at the 2% target within a 1% gap either side. However, inflation has been above 3% for some 15 months and the latest figures for February 2011 show that inflation is rising. In January, it was 4%, but data for February calculates an inflation rate of 4.4% – significantly above the Bank of England’s target rate of 2% and above the forecast rate for the month.
One of the causes of such high inflation is the price of fuel, food and clothing. No-one can have failed to notice that petrol prices are higher than ever and this is one of the factors contributing to an increase in the level of prices throughout the economy. Clothing and footwear costs, which rose by 3.6% after the January sales have also contributed to this rising figure and will put increasing pressure on the MPC to raise interest rates in the not so distant future.
In the February 2011 meeting of the Monetary Policy Committee, interest rates were kept at 0.5%, despite markets pricing the chance of a rate rise at 20%. The negative growth experienced in the final quarter of 2010 is likely to have influenced this decision, but will the inflation data we’re now seeing influence the next meeting of the MPC. This undoubtedly puts pressure on the central bank to increase interest rates to try to get inflation back on target. The cost? It could put the recovery in jeopardy and create the possibility of a double-dip recession. There is a conflict here and whatever happens to interest rates, some groups will say it’s the wrong decision. As David Kern said:
“The MPC must be careful before it takes action that may threaten the fragile recovery, particularly in the face of a tough austerity plan.”
Perhaps the Budget will provide us with some more information about how the government intends to cut the hole in public finances, ensure that the economy does not fall back into recession and keep inflation under control.
UK inflation revives talk of early interest rate rise Reuters, David Milliken and Christina Fincher (22/3/11)
How to inflation-proof your savings Telegraph, Emma Simon (22/3/11)
UK inflation rate rises to 4.4% in February BBC News (22/3/11)
Interest rates: What the economists say Guardian (10/2/11)
Q&A: Impact of rising inflation Guardian, Phillip Inman (22/3/11)
Inflation soars to over double target rate Sky News, Hazel Baker (22/3/11)
Inflation and public borrowing add to budget 2011 headaches Guardian, Larry Elliott (22/3/11)
Inflation cutting savers’ options BBC News, Kevin Peachey (22/3/11)
Inflation: What the economists say Guardian (22/3/11)
- Is inflation likely to continue going up? What might stop the rise?
- Why are interest rates such an important tool of monetary policy?
- What is the relationship between interest rates and inflation?
- What are the costs of high inflation? Does anyone benefit?
- Who would gain and who would lose if interest rates are increased in the next MPC meeting?
- Which factors have contributed towards rising inflation in the UK? Is it cost-push or demand-pull inflation?
- Why does this pose a dilemma for the government in terms of public finances and the recession?
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!
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)
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
- 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).
- 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.
- 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?
- 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?
- 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
- How serious an economic issue do you think inflation is? Illustrate your answer drawing on real-world examples of the impact of inflation.
With oil prices over $100 a barrel and petrol prices over £1 per litre, it is difficult to imagine a county where the entire tank of a 4×4 can be filled for 42p, but Venezuela is just such a country. Not surprisingly, Venezuelans are resisting any attempt to change the level of subsidy that creates this situation.
Cheap and cheerful: Venezuelans cling for right to petrol at 42p a tank Guardian (18/1/08)
||Using supply and demand diagrams as appropriate, show the impact of the Venezuelan fuel subsidy on the equilibrium price of petrol.
||Assess the impact on economic efficiency of a subsidy on this scale.
||Discuss the impact on the socially optimal equilibrium level of output of the Venezuelan fuel subsidy.