UK CPI inflation rose to 3.1% in November. This has forced Mark Carney to write a letter of explanation to the Chancellor – something he is required to do if inflation is more than 1 percentage point above (or below) the target of 2%.
The rise in inflation over the past few months has been caused largely by the depreciation of sterling following the Brexit vote. But there have been other factors at play too. The dollar price of oil has risen by 32% over the past 12 months and there have been large international rises in the price of metals and, more recently, in various foodstuffs. For example, butter prices have risen by over 20% in the past year (although they have declined somewhat recently). Other items that have seen large price rises include books, computer games, clothing and public transport.
The rate of CPI inflation is the percentage increase in the consumer prices index over the previous 12 months. When there is a one-off rise in prices, such as a rise in oil prices, its effect on inflation will only last 12 months. After that, assuming the price does not rise again, there will be no more effect on inflation. The CPI will be higher, but inflation will fall back. The effect may not be immediate, however, as input price changes take a time to work through supply chains.
Given that the main driver of inflation has been the depreciation in sterling, once the effect has worked through in terms of higher prices, inflation will fall back. Only if sterling continued depreciating would an inflation effect continue. So, many commentators are expecting that the rate on inflation will soon begin to fall.
But what will have been the effect on real incomes? In the past 12 months, nominal average earnings have risen by around 2.5% (the precise figures will not be available for a month). This means that real average earnings have fallen by around 0.6%. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart.)
For many low-income families the effect has been more severe. Many have seen little or no increase in their pay and they also consume a larger proportion of items whose prices have risen by more than the average. Those on working-age benefits will be particularly badly hit as benefits have not risen since 2015.
If inflation does fall and if real incomes no longer fall, people will still be worse off unless real incomes rise back to the levels they were before they started falling. That could be some time off.
UK inflation rate at near six-year high BBC News (12/12/17)
Inflation up as food costs jump – and gas crisis threatens worse to come The Telegraph, Tim Wallace (12/12/17)
UK worst for pay growth as rich world soars ahead in 2018 The Telegraph, Tim Wallace (12/12/17)
Inflation rises to 3.1%, adding to UK cost of living squeeze The Guardian, Larry Elliott (12/12/17)
UK inflation breaches target as it climbs to 3.1% Financial Times, Gavin Jackson (12/12/17)
Inflation surges to 3.1% in November, a near six-year high Belfast Telegraph (12/12/17)
CPI annual rate of increase (all items) ONS: series D7G7
Average weekly earnings, annual (3-month average) ONS: series KAC3
UK consumer price inflation: November 2017 ONS Statistical Bulletin (12/12/17)
Commodity prices Index Mundi
- Apart from CPI inflation, what other measures of inflation are there? Explain their meaning.
- Why is inflation of 2%, rather than 0%, seen as the optimal rate by most central banks?
- Apart from the depreciation of sterling, what other effects is Brexit likely to have on living standards in the UK?
- What are the arguments for and against the government raising benefits by the rate of CPI inflation?
- If Europe and the USA continue to grow faster than the UK, what effect is this likely to have on the euro/pound and dollar/pound exchange rates? What determines the magnitude of this effect?
- Unemployment is at its lowest level since 1975. Why, then, are real wages falling?
- Why, in the light of inflation being above target, has the Bank of England not raised Bank Rate again in December (having raised it from 0.25% to 0.5% in November)?
The recession caused a large rise in unemployment in many countries. In the USA the rise has been particularly steep, where unemployment now stands at 14.5 million, or 9.8% of the labour force. Unemployment has continued to rise despite renewed growth in the US economy, where the latest annual real GDP growth is 2.6% (measured in Q3 2010). The rise in unemployment has been blamed on ‘sticky wages’ – i.e. the reluctance of wage rates to fall.
But are wages genuinely sticky as far as the average worker is concerned? They may be in many specific jobs with specific employers, but many workers made redundant then find work in different jobs at lower rates of pay. For them, their wage has fallen, even if particular jobs are paying the same as before.
So what are the consequences of this? Does the willingness of workers to accept lower paid jobs mean that the labour market is flexible and that people will thus price themselves into work? If so, why is employment still rising? Or does a reduction in real wages for many people dampen spending and hence aggregate demand, thereby reducing the demand for labour? If so, why is GDP rising?
The following articles look at the apparent stickiness of wages and the implications for the labour market and the macroeconomy.
Downturn’s Ugly Trademark: Steep, Lasting Drop in Wages Wall Street Journal, Sudeep Reddy (11/1/11)
The Causes of Unemployment Seeking Alpha, Brad DeLong (13/1/11)
Sticky, sticky wages The Economist blogs: Free Exchange, R.A. (11/1/11)
The Causes of Unemployment New York Times blogs: Wonkish, Paul Krugman (16/1/11)
America’s union-bashing backlash Guardian, Paul Harris (5/1/11)
Federal Reserve Economic Data: FRED Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis (US macroeconomic datasets)
United States GDP Growth Rate Trading Economics
US unemployment statistics Bureau of Labor Statistics
- Why might nominal wages be sticky downwards in specific jobs in specific companies?
- Why might nominal average wages in the economy not be sticky downwards?
- Why is unemployment rising in the USA?
- Why might there be a problem of hysteresis in the USA that provides an explanation of the reluctance of unemployment to fall?
- Why might a fall in wages end up being contractionary?
- What lessons can be learned from the Great Depression about cures for unemployment?
- How might unemployment be brought down in the USA?
- Why may making wages somewhat more flexible, as opposed to perfectly flexible, not be a good thing?
Two reports released by Incomes Data Services tell dramatically contrasting stories about pay in the UK. One report focuses on average pay in the public and private sectors, which are both likely to fall in real terms in 2011. Most public-sector workers will see a freeze in their wages and, whilst private-sector workers’ pay could rise by an average of 3%, this will still be below the rate of inflation. The press release Pay awards may rise but will trail inflation (6/1/11) to the report stated that:
Private sector pay settlements in 2011 could well be higher than in 2010, as long as the economic recovery remains on track. But following the latest increase in VAT, they are likely to trail inflation, meaning that the cost of living may be set to rise faster than average pay settlements for the second year running.
However, the press release to an earlier report, FTSE-100 bosses see earnings rise 55% (29/10/10), stated that:
FTSE-100 directors saw their total earnings boosted by an average of 55% while across the FTSE 350 as a whole total board pay went up by an average 45%, according to the latest Directors Pay Report, published by Incomes Data Services. (Year to June 2010)
On the back of these increases FTSE 100 chief executives took home £4.9 million on average in total earnings during the year.
Meanwhile, there is continuing public outcry over the levels of bank pay and bonuses. Despite billions of pounds of public money having been poured into banks to prevent their collapse, bank bosses are set to receive huge remuneration packages worth several million pounds in some cases. And, despite being condemned by the government, it seems there is little it can do to curb them.
So what are the causes of the growing income divide between those at the top and everyone else? And what are the economic consequences? The following articles explore the issues.
Articles: IDS reports
Year of pain predicted for workers.. while bosses’ salaries continue to grow Daily Record, Magnus Gardham (7/1/11)
Another 12 months of pay freeze misery for workers… but bosses enjoy a huge 55% salary increase Daily Mail, Becky Barrow (6/1/11)
Private-sector pay set to trail behind inflation People Management, Michelle Stevens (6/1/11)
Private pay deals to lag behind inflation Financial Times, Brian Groom (6/1/11)
UK boardroom pay rises 55% in an age of austerity Guardian, Simon Goodley and Graeme Wearden (29/10/10)
Private sector pay ‘to trail inflation’ in 2011 BBC News (6/1/11)
Staff morale warning over bosses’ pay rises Independent, Jon Smith (6/1/11)
‘Dose of reality’ call over top pay BBC Today Programme, Robert Peston, Brendan Barber and Garry Wilson (6/1/11)
‘Severe squeeze’ on average pay BBC Today Programme, Ken Mulkearn (Editor of the Incomes Data Services pay review) (6/1/11)
UK inflation rate rises to 3.7% BBC News , Ian Pollock (18/1/11)
Articles: bankers’ bonuses
Bank bonuses ‘to run to billions in 2011’ BBC News, (7/1/11)
Cameron says banks ‘should pay smaller bonuses’ BBC News, (9/1/11)
David Cameron warns RBS over bonuses Guardian, (9/1/11)
Banks say ‘no’ to bonus backdown Management Today, Andrew Saunders (7/1/11)
Banks to pay out billions in bonuses BBC News blogs: Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (6/1/11)
Why government can’t stop big bonus payments BBC News blogs: Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (7/1/11)
Diamond: ‘I am compelled to pay big bonuses’ BBC News blogs: Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (11/1/11)
Average Weekly Earnings Incomes Data Services
- Why are average earnings likely to be less than the rate of inflation in 2011?
- Why were the directors of the FTSE 100 companies paid an average 55% pay increase for the year to October 2010?
- To what extent can marginal productivity theory explain the huge increases of bosses of top companies?
- If remuneration committees base executive pay increases on the average of the top 25% of increases of equivalent people in other companies (to stop ‘poaching’), what will be the implications for executive pay rises over time?
- What market failures are there in determining executive pay?
- What will be the implications for staff morale if their earnings are falling in real terms while their bosses are receiving huge pay increases? Should these implications be taken into account when deciding executive remuneration packages?
- Are shareholders in FTSE 100 companies likely to welcome the pay increases of their top executives? If so, why? If not, why not?