So the IMF has come late to the transitory inflation party. What was obvious months ago is now at the forefront of IMF forecasts. Better late than never I suppose. It is becoming clear that most indicators are still not predicting a major demand-side collapse in most nations. Growth has moderated slightly and the forward indicators are looking up. At the same time, the inflation data around the world is suggesting the price pressures have peaked and lower inflation rates are expected. Real wages continue to fall, which means that the inflationary pressures were not being driven by wages. So no wage-price spiral mechanism at play. And PMI data and related indicators (such as shipping costs, etc) suggest the supply constraints which drove the inflationary pressures are easing. So has all this been the work of the interest rate rises imposed on nations by central bankers (bar Japan)? Not likely. The rising interest rates and falling inflation are coincidental rather than causal. Which means the damage to low income debt holders and the bank profits boom from the higher rates was for what?
Last Friday (December 2, 2022), the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – November 2022 – which suggested that the US labour market showed signs of slowing further, with payroll employment growing by just 263,000 net jobs. The labour force measure showed employment and labour force growth turning negative as the participation edged down. The result was that the official unemployment rate remained largely unchanged – with both the demand and supply side falling in proportion. The quit rate is stable which suggests that the US labour market is in a sort of holding pattern – slowing weakening but not consistent with the Federal Reserve type narratives. There are also no fundamental wage pressures emerging at present to drive any further inflation spikes. Wages growth appears to be reactive to inflation rather than propelling it. Wages growth appears to be reactive to inflation rather than propelling it. The claim that wage pressures are now pushing inflation is untenable given the data.
Today (September 16, 2022), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Wage Price Index, Australia – for the September-quarter, which shows that the aggregate wage index rose by 1 per cent over the quarter and 3.1 per cent over the 12 months. There was a major discrepancy between the private sector (1.2 per cent for the quarter) and the public sector (just 0.6 per cent), which reflects the harsh wage caps that the federal and state governments have in place that are undermining the well-being of public employees. While there has been some pickup in the pace of nominal wages growth, the fact remains that workers have endured another quarter of real cuts to the purchasing power of their wage. This is the sixth consecutive quarter that real wages have fallen. There can be no sustained acceleration in the inflation rate arising from wages growth under these circumstances. Further with the gap between productivity growth and the declining real wages increasing, the massive redistribution of national income away from wages to profits continues. The business sector, as a whole, thinks it is clever to always oppose wages growth and the banks love that because they can foist more debt onto households to maintain their consumption expenditure. None of this offers workers a better future.
Last Friday (November 4, 2022), the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – November 2022 – which suggested that the US labour market showed signs of slowing further, with payroll employment growing by just 261,000 net jobs. The labour force measure showed employment and labour force growth turning negative as the participation edged down. The result was that the official unemployment rate rose by 0.1 points to 3.7 per cent. There are also no fundamental wage pressures emerging at present to drive any further inflation spikes. Wages growth appears to be reactive to inflation rather than propelling it. Wages growth appears to be reactive to inflation rather than propelling it. The claim that wage pressures are now pushing inflation is untenable given the data.
Last Friday (October 7, 2022), the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – September 2022 – which reported a total payroll employment rise of only 263,000 jobs (further slowdown) and a drop (0.2 points) in the official unemployment rate to 3.5 per cent. Total labour force survey employment rose by just 204 thousand net (0.13 per cent), while the labour force declined by 57 thousand net (0.03 per cent) as a result of the decline in the participation rate of 0.1 points to 62.3 per cent. 4. As a result (in accounting terms), total measured unemployment fell by 261 thousand to 5,753 thousand which is why the unemployment rate fell by 0.2 points. However, while the unemployment rate fell, the combination of weakening employment growth and falling participation is a sign of a faltering labour market. There are also no fundamental wage pressures emerging at present to drive any further inflation spikes. Wages growth appears to be reactive to inflation rather than propelling it. The claim that wage pressures are now pushing inflation is untenable given the data.
It’s Wednesday and I am now ensconced in Kyoto, Japan for the months ahead. I will report on various aspects of that experience as time passes. Today, I reflect on a debate that is going on in Australia about the situation facing live musicians. Should promoters be able to employ them for poverty wages including ‘nothing’ while still profiting or should they be forced to pay the musicians a living wage. You can guess where I sit in the debate.
Last Friday (September 3, 2022), the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – September 2022 – which reported a total payroll employment rise of only 315,000 jobs (a major slowdown) and an official unemployment rate rose 0.2 points to 3.7 per cent. The participation rate also rose (somewhat reversing last month’s decline) and the broad labour underutilisation rate (U6) rose by 0.3 points, largely due to the rise in unemployment. The other interesting aspect of this data is that real wages continued to decline in all industry sectors – they have systematically fallen each month since March 2022. I note some commentators are trying to claim that wage pressures are now pushing inflation. That conclusion is untenable given the data. The US labour market is still producing employment but it is hardly booming. Further, most of the net jobs created since the pandemic have gone to workers in occupatinos that pay above-median earnings.
What a world we live in where we are snowed with propaganda from the elites about how the only way forward is that we accept “pain” or “sacrifice” to prevent some inflationary catastrophe from accelerating out of control and that if workers dare seek some cost-of-living redress as corporations go for broke in their margin push, then the pain the policy makers will inflict will be greater. The annual gathering of the elites at Jackson Hole in Wyoming over the last days has been one of those ‘can you believe this lot’ moments. First, we had the US Federal Reserve boss almost joyfully telling Americans that he will inflict pain on them because “these are the unfortunate costs of reducing inflation”. At the same event, the ECB Board member Isabel Schnabel told the gathering that the central banks had to inflict higher unemployment rates to control inflation to stop wages getting driven by inflationary expectations. And then we look at wages growth in Europe and see that real wages are in free fall (dropping 5.9 per cent in the June-quarter 2022).
I read a lot about Japan. It has interested me since the early 1990s commercial property collapse and the subsequent fiscal and monetary policy measures that the Japanese government deployed to deal with it, which took policy settings outside the bounds that mainstream economists could cope with. These economists predicted the worst based on mindless extrapolations of their ‘theoretical’ models, which are really incapable of dealing with the real world in any meaningful way. Their worst didn’t come and some 3 decades later, with policy settings still at ‘extreme’ levels compared to the way mainstream economists think (and the policy makers are not budging it seems), Japan continues to demonstrate why New Keynesian macroeconomics is inapplicable and why Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) has traction. And while Japan provides first-class public transport, health and education systems, a viable housing policy, good urban systems, and has maintained low unemployment rates even during the GFC and the pandemic, there is one feature that is troublesome – the flat lining wages growth over the last 20 years. I have been very interested in learning the reasons for this phenomenon, which sets Japan apart from most other nations (who have also experienced low wages growth – but not that low). I plan to work on this aspect, in part, when I move to Kyoto next month for an extended stay.
It’s Wednesday and some short items that caught my interest over the last week. The FAO’s latest – Food Price Index – shows that even though food prices fell 8.6 per cent from June (to August), “the fourth consecutive monthly decline”, they are still massive inflated (13.1 per cent higher than August 2020) and the “world’s top four grain traders” are profiting from record sales in the face of supply disruptions. The World Food Program informs us that 345 million people are enduring ‘acute food insecurity’ which is nearly 3 times the pre-pandemic number. The system is not working and I have some things to say about that below. Further, latest PMI data from Europe shows that price pressures are declining, which brings into question those (with vested interests) calling for even higher interest rates. And then some music.