The latest inflation numbers are a joy for headline writers! With the falling price of toys, we can perhaps speak of ‘inflation toying with us’, while the fall in the cost of gas might allow us to say that ‘gas takes the fuel out of inflation’. More generally, the latest inflation figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show the annual rate of CPI inflation falling from 3.5% in January to 3% in February. In other words, the weighted price of a representative basket of consumer goods and services rose by 3% in the 12 months to February as compared with 3.5% over the 12 months to January.
In compiling the Consumer Price Index (CPI), the ONS collects something in the range of 180,000 price quotations over 650 representative goods and services. These goods and services fall into 12 broad product groups. The items to be selected for these groups are reviewed once a year so that, in the face of changing tastes and preferences and changes in the goods and services available to us, the ‘CPI shopping basket’ remains representative. A price index and a rate of price inflation are available for each of these 12 broad groups as well as for goods and services within these groups. So, for instance, we can obtain a price for ‘transport’, then, within this group, we can obtain a price for the purchase of ‘vehicles’ and, finally, a price for ‘new cars’ and for ‘second-hand cars’. This level of detail also means that individuals can calculate their own personal inflation rates using the ONS personal inflation calculator.
So what of the latest fall in the rate of CPI inflation? Well, the ONS reports ‘widespread’ downward pressures. This phrase needs some careful unpicking. Downward pressure is reported from ‘recreation and culture’ because its average price was static in February, but rose a year earlier. Within this group, the average price of games, toys and hobbies fell this year, but increased a year ago and, so, our possible headline ‘inflation is toying with us’. Similarly, downward pressure is reported from ‘housing and household services’ where a fall in its average price this year follows static prices a year ago. A major driver of this change was a reduction in average gas bills and so our other possible headline, ‘gas takes the fuel out of inflation’.
The latest price numbers from the ONS show that some product groups are experiencing long-term price deflation. For instance, while the average price of ‘clothing and footwear’ actually rose in February, when we analyse annual rates of price inflation for this product group, one has to go back to March 1992 to find the last time it was positive! Indeed, within the slightly narrower product group of ‘clothing’, the average annual rate of price deflation over the past ten years has been 6.1%. A similar longer-term trend of price deflation can be found in the product group ‘audio-visual, photo and data processing’. Here there has been an average annual rate of price deflation of 9.9% over the past ten years. So, smile for the camera!
Rates set to remain at record low as inflation falls back sharply heraldscotland, Ian McConnell (23/3/10)
Inflation data boosts government before budget AFP (23/3/10)
UK inflation rate falls to 3% in February BBC News (23/3/10) )
Inflation slows more than expected Reuters UK, David Milliken and Christina Fincher (23/3/10)
UK inflation falls sharply to 3% Financial Times, Daniel Pimlott (23/3/10)
Inflation rate fell to 3 per cent in February Independent. James Moore (24/3/10)
Inflation falls back to 3% Guardian, Philip Inman (23/3/10)
How soon before we scrap the Bank’s inflation target? Telegraph, Edmund Conway (23/3/10)
Latest on inflation Office for National Statistics (23/3/10)
Consumer Price Indices, Statistical Bulletin, March 2010 Office for National Statistics (23/3/10)
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
- Explain the difference between an increase in the level of prices and an increase in the rate of price inflation.
- The annual rate of price inflation for clothing in February was -3.9%. If the average price of clothing was cheaper, year-on-year, how could it have exerted ‘upward’ pressure on the overall rate of CPI inflation?
- What factors might help to explain why, over the past 10 years, the average annual rate of price inflation for audio-visual, photo and data processing equipment has been -9.9%?
- What factors might help to explain why, over the past 10 years, the average annual rate of price inflation for clothing and footwear has been -5.7%?
- What factors might help to explain why the annual rate of ‘new car’ price inflation was 5.4% in February 2010 compared with -0.2% in February 2009?
- What factors might help to explain why the annual rate of ‘second-hand’ car price inflation was 19.0% in February 2010 compared with -15.1% in February 2009? And, are you surprised at the difference in the rates of ‘new’ and ‘second-hand’ car price inflation?