Today (February 21, 2023), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Wage Price Index, Australia – for the December-quarter 2023, which shows that the aggregate wage index rose by 4.2 per cent over the 12 months (up 0.2 points). In relation to the December-quarter CPI change (4.1 per cent), this result suggests that real wages grew modestly for the first time in 11 quarters. However, if we use the more appropriate Employee Selected Living Cost Index as our measure of the change in purchasing power then the December-quarter result of 6.9 per cent means that real wages fell by 2.7 per cent. Even the ABS notes the SLCI is a more accurate measure of cost-of-living increases for specific groups of interest in the economy. However, most commentators will focus on the nominal wages growth relative to CPI movements, which in my view provides a misleading estimate of the situation workers are in. Further, while productivity growth is weak, the movement in real wages is still such that real unit labour costs are still declining, which is equivalent to an ongoing attrition of the wages share in national income. So corporations are failing to invest the massive profits they have been earning and are also taking advantage of the current situation to push up profit mark-ups. A system that then forces tens of thousands of workers out of employment to deal with that problem is void of any decency or rationale. That is modern day Australia.
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 (January 31, 2024), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Consumer Price Index, Australia – for the December-quarter 2023. The data showed that the inflation rate continues to fall sharply – down to 4.1 per cent from 5.2 per cent in line with global supply trends. There is nothing in this quarterly release that would justify further interest rate rises. Yesterday, the ABS published the latest – Retail Trade – data for December 2023, which showed a marked slowdown in consumer spending in December 2023 after many consumers brought forward spending in November 2023 to take advantage of the discount sales. So it is likely that overall spending is subdued and I expect the inflation rate to continue to decline in the next three months.
The latest information from Japan suggests that in December 2023, its inflation fell sharply for the second consecutive month and that one might conclude the inflation episode is coming to an end. The Bank of Japan made the assumption that this supply-side inflation was temporary and would subside fairly quickly once those constraints eased. And they were right. All the other central banks somehow convinced themselves that the inflation was demand-driven and have been needlessly pushing up interest rates. The experiment is nearly over and I think it is clear that the Japanese path was the sound one. At that point, the New Keynesian academics and officials should resign. After that, as it is Wednesday, we have some music to soothe our souls.
Today’s post is a complement to my post on earlier this week – So-called ‘Team Transitory’ declared victors (January 8, 2024). Yesterday (January 10, 2024), the Australian Bureau of Statistics published the latest – Monthly Consumer Price Index Indicator – for November 2023, which showed another sharp drop in inflation. The data are the closest we have to what is actually going on at the moment and it is clear that the falling inflation that began in September 2022 is continuing at a fairly brisk pace. The annual rate is now down to 4.3 per cent from 4.9 per cent in October 2023. The main driver of inflation over the last few years has been fuel prices and automotive fuel inflation has fallen from 19.7 per cent in September 2023 to 2.3 per cent in November 2023, due to global factors quite independent of domestic monetary policy. In fact, as the time passes we get a much clear reinforcement of the transitory narrative driven by supply factors rather than demand factors. This narrative has also been given weight by a recent research paper from the ECB – What drives core inflation? The role of supply shocks (published November 13, 2023). Overall, the data is now exposing the folly of the New Keynesian macroeconomic policy approach which prioritises monetary policy as the counter stabilising tool and has considered the inflationary episode to be due to excessive government spending.
Yesterday (November 29, 2023), the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released the latest – Monthly Consumer Price Index Indicator – for October 2023, which showed a sharp drop in inflation. This release resolves some of the uncertainty that arose when the September-quarter data came out last month, which showed a slight uptick. I analysed that data release in this blog post – Slight rise in Australian inflation rate driven by factors that do not justify further rate hikes (October 25, 2023) and concluded that the slight rise was not a sign of excess spending and would soon resolve. Today’s figures are the closest we have to what is actually going on at the moment and show that the inflation fell from an annual rate of 5.6 per cent in September 2023 to 4.9 per cent in October. The trajectory is firmly downwards. As I show below, the only components of the CPI that are rising are either due to external factors that the RBA has no control over and are ephemeral, or, are being caused by the RBA rate rises themselves. The RBA boss was in Hong Kong this week trying to justify the rate hikes by saying that Australian households are coping well. Her analysis is partial and ignores the massive distributional differences arising from the interest rate increases. Justifying the unjustifiable!
Last week (November 15, 2023), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Wage Price Index, Australia – for the September-quarter 2023, which shows that the aggregate wage index rose by 1.3 per cent over the quarter (up 0.5 points) and 4 per cent over the 12 months (up 0.3 points). The ABS noted this was a “record” increase in relation to the history of this time series, which began in 1997. The RBA and all the economists who want interest rates higher (mostly because the financial market institutions they represent profit from higher rates) are now claiming that the higher wages growth is evidence of a domestic inflation problem and higher unemployment is needed to force wages down. The problem is that the nominal wages growth is still well below the inflation rate (which is falling) and while productivity growth is weak, the decline in real wages is still larger than the decline in productivity growth. That combination, which I explain in detail below, signifies that corporations are failing to invest the massive profits they have been earning and are also taking advantage of the current situation to push up profit mark-ups. A system that then forces tens of thousands of workers out of employment to deal with that problem is void of any decency or rationale.
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.
Today (October 25, 2023), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Consumer Price Index, Australia – for the September-quarter 2023. The data showed a slight uptick in the quarterly rate of inflation with the CPI rising by 1.2 per cent (up 0.4 points), largely due to petrol price rises and rental increases. The latter is, in part, driven by the previous RBA interest rate hikes – so monetary policy causing inflation rather than reducing it. The annual inflation rate, however, was significantly lower again in the September-quarter as the supply-side drivers abate – down to 5.4 per cent from 6.1 per cent in the June-quarter. While the RBA has been threatening further rate hikes if the new data showed an increase in the inflation rate, there is nothing in this quarterly release that would justify that. The fuel prices are not sensitive to domestic monetary policy and further rate hikes will make the rental situation worse.
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.
Today (July 26, 2023), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Consumer Price Index, Australia – for the June-quarter 2023. It showed that the CPI rose 0.8 per cent in the quarter (down 0.6 points) and over the 12 months by 6.1 per cent (down 0.9 points). The annual inflation rate in Australia was significantly lower again in the June-quarter as the supply-side drivers abate. This was always going to be a transitory adjustment phase after the massive disruption from Covid and the exacerbating factors associated with the Ukraine situation and the OPEC price gouge. There was never any justification for the RBA pushing up interest rates. The correct policy response should have been to provide fiscal support for lower-income households to help them cope with the cost of living rises and wait for the adjustment after the disruption to come. The approach taken by the Bank of Japan and the Japanese government was the correct one and that is now clear even though the mainstream economists still cannot see past their textbooks.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released of the latest labour force data today (June 15, 2023) – Labour Force, Australia – for June 2023. The June result presents a relatively stable picture with moderate employment growth keeping pace with the underlying population growth and the unemployment rate being largely unchanged (a slight drop in rounding). The only negative is that participation fell by 0.1 point but that may just be monthly variance. We should realise though that there are still 9.9 per cent of the available and willing working age population who are being wasted in one way or another – either unemployed or underemployed. That extent of idle labour means Australia is not really close to full employment despite the claims by the mainstream commentators. As I note below, the stability of the unemployment rate at around 3.5 per cent coupled with the rather sharp declines in the inflation rate indicate that the RBA claims that unemployment must rise to bring inflation down is spurious. Their so-called estimate of the NAIRU at 4.5 per cent should mean that inflation is still accelerating given the actual unemployment rate of 3.5 per cent. Exactly the opposite is occurring.
Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) economists have argued from the outset that using interest rate rises to subdue inflationary pressures may in fact add to those pressures through their impact on business costs. Businesses with outstanding trade credit or overdrafts will use their market power to pass the higher borrowing costs on to consumers. In more recent times, we have seen other mechanisms through which central bank rate hikes actually add to inflation. Regular readers will know that I have been discussing how landlords have been passing on higher mortgage costs in tight rental markets, which then creates a vicious cycle – interest rates up, rental costs up, CPI up because rents are a significant component, inflation rises, interest rates rise. Repeat. The tight rental markets are in part, a consequence of the neoliberal austerity bias, which has seen governments seriously underinvest in social (low income) housing. In recent days, we have witnessed another conflation of neoliberalism and destructive policy insanity. Earlier this month, Australians received messages from the companies that provide them with electricity announcing that the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) had approved price rises of between 19.6 per cent and 24.9 per cent in various East coast states. How did that happen, especially as world coal prices are dropping rapidly and are now below the pre-pandemic levels? And how does the bias towards monetary policy exacerbate this situation?
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.
Today (June 28, 2023), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Monthly Consumer Price Indicator – which covers the period to May 2023. On an annual basis, the monthly All Items CPI rate of increase was 5.6 per cent down from 6.8 per cent. There is some stickiness in some of the components in the CPI but overall inflation peaked last year and is now declining fairly quickly as the factors that caused the pressures in the first place are abating. I doubt that any of this decline is due to the obsessive interest rate hikes by the Reserve Bank of Australia. Anyway, a quick analysis of the data then some discussion of the British teachers’ pay dispute, the latest Australian Covid numbers (worrying) and some music to cheer us all up after the economics. The overwhelming point of today’s data is that this period of inflation is proving to be transitory and did not justify the rate increases. It was a supply-side event and trying to increase unemployment to kill off spending (demand) will just leave an ugly legacy once those supply-side factors abate (which they are and were always going to).
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.
As the inflation episode starts to abate, central bank governors have been keen to advance narratives to justify why they would continue hiking interest rates, especially when it is pretty obvious that the drivers of the inflation were mostly coming from the supply-side and suppressing aggregate spending (via the higher rates) would not be a very effective measure to deploy. This is quite apart from the debate as to the effectiveness of using interest rates to stifle spending, which is a separate discussion with no clear conclusion other than probably not. As I have noted previously, it was hard to argue that inflation was accelerating out of control when it had started to decline many months ago. So they had to come up with a different narrative – which was that while inflation was falling it was not falling quickly enough. That is the current story line the officials trot out. And that allows them to claim that if it doesn’t fall quickly then two things will be likely: (a) workers will build the higher inflation into their wage demands and set off a wage-price spiral that becomes self-fulfilling even after the supply-side factors (Covid, Ukraine, OPEC) abate, and (b) that people would start to expect higher inflation was the norm and build that into the contractual arrangements and pricing. Neither behavioural phenomenon has shown any sign of becoming entrenched, which leaves the central bank officials without a cover. And even research from central banks themselves is demonstrating that there is not ‘high inflation’ mindset taking over.
It’s Wednesday and there is a lot going on in the data release sense – housing finance, construction and today, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Monthly Consumer Price Indicator – which covers the period to April 2023. On an annual basis, the monthly All Items CPI rate of increase was 6.8 per cent down from 6.9 per cent. There is some stickiness in some of the components in the CPI but overall inflation peaked last year and is slowly declining as the factors that caused the pressures in the first place are abating. Tomorrow I plan to discuss an apparent tension in the Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) community as to whether interest rate increases are expansionary or contractionary. But today we just consider the data and then listen to some dub.
The – Washington Consensus – has been out in full force this week with the US Federal Reserve and the RBA increasing interest rates further despite all the indications that inflation peaked months ago and its downward trajectory has had little if anything to do with the ridiculous interest rate rises since early 2022. Both banks, along with most other central banks, are just thumbing through the New Keynesian textbook to get their direction and pretending to be capable of assessing the situation correctly. Neither the textbooks nor the assessments are remotely accurate and unnecessary pain is just being inflicted on low income mortgage holders. But the public barely know that there is a grand global experiment being conducted by central banks which allow us to reflect on the veracity of competing economic theories and approaches. Most central banks are hiking rates at present as a reflection of the dominance of the New Keynesian prioritisation of monetary policy as a counter-stabilising, anti-inflationary policy tool over fiscal policy. One central bank is not following suit – the Bank of Japan. The BOJ has not shifted rates, is maintaining its yield curve control policy and the government is expanding fiscal policy. The diametric opposite to the New Keynesian approach. We now have enough data to assess the relative merits of the two approaches. Japan has lower inflation, no currency crisis and its citizens are better off as a result of the monetary-fiscal policy initiatives.