The Fed Has An Alarming Low-Inflation Problem
With all the talk of central bank hawkishness in the last week, one might assume there was some inflation to point to. It is quite the opposite. It is one thing to talk about inflation being below the Fed’s target of 2%, it is an entirely different issue to see it flirting with deflation! Shorter-term trends of core-inflation are very near to 0%, levels we haven’t seen since the great recession and the advent of quantitative easing.
In its most common form, inflation is quoted by measuring its percentage change compared its level 12 months ago, the so-called year-over-year (YoY%) metric. But, shorter-term periods can be measured to get a sense of more recent trends as well as if there is acceleration or deceleration in the metric. The shorter the period measured, the more volatility the metric has, and so year-over-year (YoY%) has become the standard. It also has the added benefit of eliminating any seasonal effects.
In the charts below, we show the two top-tier measures of consumer price inflation, the Fed-preferred core PCE deflator, and the core CPI; with its common year-over year (YoY%) format, 6 months back annualized, and 3 months back annualized. Comparing the three gives a sense of acceleration of deceleration. If the 3mo. is less than the 6mo. is less than the 12mo., there is deceleration and vice-versa, there is acceleration.
But, beyond these charts, evidence of low inflation abounds. The headline versions of these numbers (including oil and food) are negative over the last three months, the ‘prices paid’ component of the manufacturing ISM number fell by a large amount in a release on Monday (7/3), the ‘prices paid’ component of the Service-sector ISM is now contracting, inflation expectations in all indicators have been falling since February, and the OECD published a report yesterday (7/4) that the inflation rate has fallen for four straight months in G-20 economies.
Despite the excitement last week at the prospect of global central banks moving away from easy money policies, there is no fundamental basis for this. We expect that the Fed will soon need to move to a neutral from tightening bias.