It’s Wednesday and I have comments on a few items today. I haven’t been able to write much today because the power has been down after the dramatic storms yesterday in Victoria damaged the network and caused absolute chaos (see below). Power is mostly back on now (which is why this post is later than usual). The US CPI data released yesterday showed that inflation continues to decline and the so-called ‘surprise’ that seems to have shocked the ‘markets’ are mostly down to the eccentric way the US Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates housing costs. The data provides no justification for further rate hikes in the US or anywhere else for that matter. I also report on an interesting survey from Japan regarding local attitudes to foreigners. I don’t think it reflects Japanese insularity although many will conclude otherwise. Then some Wayne Shorter.
Today, I discuss a recent paper from the Bank of Japan’s Research and Studies series that focused on how much attention central banks around the world give to climate change and sustainability and how they interpret those challenges within their policy frameworks. The interesting result is that when there is an explicit mandate given to the central bank to consider these issues, the policy responses are framed quite differently and are oriented towards solutions, whereas otherwise, the narratives are about how climate change will impact on inflation. In the latter case, the central banks do not see their role as being part of the solution. Rather, they threaten harsher monetary policy action to deal with inflation. I also consider the most recent US inflation data. Finally, some live music from my time in Kyoto this year.
Last Friday (December 8 , 2023), the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – November 2023 – which showed payroll employment rising by 199,000 which is a good sign. The unemployment rate also fell as employment growth outstripped the growth in the labour force – down to 3.7 per cent (from 3.9 per cent). The participation rate rose by 0.1 point, indicating optimism among workers. I see no sign of a major slowdown emerging. Real wages have also started rising – modestly.
It’s Wednesday, and today I discuss the latest US inflation data, which shows a significant annual decline in the inflation rate with housing still prominent. But for reasons I discuss, we can expect the housing inflation to fall in the coming months. I also discuss how on-going fiscal ignorance allows the Australian government to avoid investing in much-needed fast rail infrastructure which would solve many problems that are now reducing societal well-being. And then some of the best guitar playing you will ever hear.
In last month’s US labour market briefing – US labour market – stability abounds although, worryingly, real wage gains have evaporated (October 9, 2023) – I noted that while there was no major slowdown signalled, the real wage gains made in previous months had evaporated. I wasn’t sure whether that was a sign that a tipping point had been reached or was near. Last Friday (November 3, 2023), the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – October 2023 – which showed payroll employment rising by just 150,000, a significant dip in the previous month’s increase. The unemployment rate also continued to creep up to 3.9 per cent (from 3.8 per cent). While some might interpret this as a weakening trend, the question should be asked about the appropriate benchmark that we should be using. One could easily conclude that the aggregates are returning to pre-pandemic levels after all the pandemic noise. The alternative view is that there is a slowdown occurring. We will have to wait another month or so to distinguish between these two conjectures. After a few months of real wage gains, we are now observing nominal wages growth trailing the moderating inflation rate.
On October 26, 2023, the US Bureau of Economic Analysis published the latest US National Accounts figures – Gross Domestic Product, Third Quarter 2023 (Advance Estimate) – which showed that “Real gross domestic product (GDP) increased at an annual rate of 4.9 percent in the third quarter of 2023”. The June-quarter 2023 growth rate was 2.1 per cent. There was broad-based growth in all the expenditure components, including those that would be most sensitive to interest rate rises. My prior, of course, is that the interest rates would not significantly reduce growth in the short run, whereas mainstream New Keynesian theory considers interest rate rises to be an effective tool in moderating total spending, and, in turn, reducing inflation. The reality does not support the mainstream proposition. Consecutive national accounts releases from the US, however, have shown that aggregate expenditure is resilient in the face of the interest rate increases.
Scottish-born economist – Angus Deaton – recently published his new book – An Immigrant Economist Explores the Land of Inequality – in which he provides a swathing critique of the state of the economics profession, particularly in the way that it impacts on policy making and societal well-being. He is a microeconomist who made a name for himself studying consumer demand, which means he has not contributed anything significant to the field of macroeconomics, where I hang out. The title refers to his migration to the US from Britain in the 1980s and his reflections on what he found and how the economics academy has changed over this 45 years in the profession. His point is that the economics profession has lost its purpose and should return to a focus on advancing well-being. He is particularly critical of Chicago-style economics – or ‘free market’ thinking. The problem though is that the neoliberal era has not been about applying Chicago-style economic theory. The elites just say they are doing that when in fact all they are doing is utilising the immense government capacity to shift the intervention dial in their favour. The government has not given way to the free market – it has just been reconfigured to become an agent of capital.
I read an interesting report this morning, which resonated with some other work I had been looking into earlier in the week. The Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) released a report yesterday (September 27, 2023) – Inequality in Australia 2023: Overview – which shows that “The gap between those with the most and those with the least has blown out over the past two decades, with the average wealth of the highest 20% growing at four times the rate of the lowest”. It is one of the manifestations of the neoliberal era and is ultimately unsustainable. Earlier in the week, I spent some time analysing the latest data from the US Federal Reserve on the distribution of wealth among US households. The US data goes a long way to explaining why the recent interest rate hikes have been inflationary in themselves.
Last Friday (September 1, 2023), the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – August 2023 – which showed payroll employment rising by 187,000 but also that the unemployment rate has now starting rising (up 0.3 points) to 3.8 per cent. Is this the tipping point? I am very uncertain given the surprisingly large burst in participation which accounts almost entirely for the rise in unemployment and the unemployment rate. Most of the other aggregates were relatively stable which is why I am expressing uncertainty in my assessment. However, there is no sign of recession and no sign that the misguided Federal Reserve interest rate rises are causing rises in unemployment. Powell could hardly take credit for the rising participation rate unless he argued that he had created such desperation that people who normally do not work sought work. A stretch!
Yesterday (August 29, 2023), the incoming Reserve Bank of Australia governor was confronted with ‘activists’ as she prepared to present to an audience at the Australian National University in Canberra. They presented her with an application for unemployment benefits and had done her the favour of already filling it in with her name. It was in response to her dreadful speech in June where she said the RBA was intent on pushing the unemployment rate up to 4.5 per cent (from 3.5), which means that around 140,000 workers will be forced out of work. The problem is that even if we believed the logic underpinning such an aspiration, the actual empirical evidence doesn’t support the conclusion. Today August 30, 2023, we received more evidence of that as the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released the latest – Monthly Consumer Price Index Indicator – for July 2023, which showed a sharp drop in inflation. As well as considering that data, today I reflect on the latest JOLTS data that was released by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics yesterday. The two considerations are complementary and demonstrate that central bankers in Australia and the US have lost the plot. To soothe our souls after all that we remember a great musician who died recently.