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.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics released the latest US inflation data last week (August 10, 2023) – Consumer Price Index Summary – which showed that overall monthly inflation to be 0.2 per cent and mostly driven by housing. And, once we understand how the housing component is calculated then there is every reason to believe that this major driver of the current inflation rate will weaken considerably in the coming months. The rent component in the CPI has been a strong influence on the overall inflation rate and that has been pushed up by the Federal Reserve rate hikes.
Last Friday (August 4, 2023), the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – July 2023 – indicated a rather ‘steady as she goes’ outcome. A slightly weaker employment outlook compared to the beginning of 2023 but overall a very stable situation. There is no sign of recession and no sign that the misguided Federal Reserve interest rate rises are causing rises in unemployment. More evidence that monetary policy is not an effective tool.
It’s Wednesday and there are a few topics that warrant some comment. But at the top of the topics were headlines this morning shouting out that the US treasury bonds had been downgraded by one of those self-serving credit rating agencies, as if it was an event worthy of some import. The journalists obviously do not understand anything if they think that decision was important. The ratings downgrade on US government debt is meaningless and the rating agency involved just wants to boost its revenue by sounding important. After I explain all that we will have a quiet musical reflection to finish the day.
Yesterday’s US inflation data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (July 12, 2023) – Consumer Price Index Summary – June 2023 – shows a further significant drop in the inflation rate as some of the key supply-side drivers continue to abate. The annual inflation rate is now back to 3 per cent and dropping fast. The risk now is that the conduct of the Federal Reserve will drive the US into a deflationary period with rising unemployment. Given that inflation peaked in the third-quarter 2022, that wages growth has been relatively subdued, and inflationary expectations’ survey evidence suggests no-one really thinks the inflation was going to endure, means that the US Federal Reserve’s logic is deeply flawed and not fit for purpose. They have been chasing an obsession that exists in a parallel universe to the real world. The risk is that they will continue to chase that obsession and use the fact that unemployment has still not risen much to claim there has to be higher unemployment. However, hopefully, the 3 per cent inflation rate result yesterday will cut-off any wild claims that they have to get the inflation down more quickly or risk a wages or expectations explosion. All cant of course.
I have been looking for signs that the concerted efforts by most central banks (bar the eminently more sensible Bank of Japan) to kill growth and force unemployment up have actually been effective. My prior, of course, is that the interest rates will not significantly reduce growth in the short run, but may if they go high enough start to impact on spending patterns of low income households. The next data that will help us associate the interest rate effects on spending by income quintile in the US comes out in September 2023, so I will watch out for that. The most recent national accounts data from the US, however, does not support the mainstream belief that monetary policy is the most effective tool for suppressing expenditure. Far from it.
Last Friday (July 7, 2023), the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released their latest labour market data – Employment Situation Summary – June 2023 – which revealed that the the US labour market has probably reached a turning point but is certainly not contracting at a rate consistent with an imminent recession. There was a continuing weakening of net employment growth. Further, the weaker conditions are evidenced by the decrease in new job openings and rising underemployment (workers forced into part-time work for economic reasons).
It’s Wednesday and as usual I consider a few topics in less depth than a single blog post, as a precursor to the music segment. Yesterday’s US inflation data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (June 13, 2023) – Consumer Price Index Summary – May 2023 – shows a further significant drop in the inflation rate as some of the key supply-side drivers continue to abate. All the data is pointing to the fact that the US Federal Reserve’s logic is deeply flawed and not fit for purpose. Today, I also discuss the latest data on remuneration from Australia which shows that while corporate bosses have been urging wage setting processes in Australia to suppress the growth in wages for workers, an argument also used by the RBA governor recently, the bosses themselves have been getting massive nominal salary growth and increasing their purchasing power by a mutiple of the inflation rate. Modern day capitalism.