Rising labour costs have only the smallest impact on services inflation

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.

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Australia – inflation still falling while the RBA governor keeps inventing ruses to keep hiking rates

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.

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Japan has lower inflation, no currency crisis and its citizens are better off as a result of the monetary-fiscal policy initiatives

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.

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Australian inflation rate has peaked and falling fast – but not fast enough for the interest rate boosters

Today (April 26, 2023), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Consumer Price Index, Australia – for the March-quarter 2023. It showed that the CPI rose 1.4 per cent in the quarter (down 0.4 points) and over the 12 months by 7 per cent (down 0.8 points). The monthly data, also released today (which I do not analyse here) shows inflation dropping from 7.4 per cent in January to 6.8 per cent in February to 6.3 per cent in March. Significant downward trend as the supply factors abate. Taken together we conclude that the peak has now passed, which is consistent with my assessment that this would be a transient, supply-driven event. There are no wage pressures and inflationary expectations are in decline or steady. The laughable thing is that as the rate falls, the mainstream narrative, which continues to push for higher interest rates, has shifted from a focus on the inflation rate itself to the claim that it is now not falling fast enough. The claimed fears are now that the longer it remains at elevated levels the more chance there will be of a wage-price spiral breaking out and/or accelerating (un-anchored) expectations. Neither are likely given the situation before us and that leads to the conclusion that these interest rate boosters are just exuding hot air as usual. The major sources of price increases are temporary and in the March-quarter are the direct result of discretionary government administrative arrangements (indexation arrangements etc), which could easily be waived this year. The correct policy response should be to provide fiscal support for lower-income households to help them cope with the cost of living rises at present. Increasing interest rates again will not solve the problem that is already abating.

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The inflation backtracking from the central bankers and others is gathering pace

Remember all the hype from central bankers last year and earlier this year about how they had to get ‘ahead of the curve’ with their interest rate hikes just in case wage demands escalated and inflationary expectatinos became ‘unanchored’. Over the last 18 months, I consistently noted in various blog posts that this was all a ruse to create a smokescreen to justify the unjustifiable rate rises – given that the inflationary pressures were almost all coming from the supply side and those forces were temporary and abating. Well now, the mainstream, having pushed for the rate rises and got their way are now backtracking to maintain their credibility by claiming there are no wage-price dynamics in sight. It is a dystopia.

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Inflation drops sharply in Australia but it is not the work of the RBA

Today (March 29, 2023), the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released the latest ‘monthly’ CPI data – Monthly Consumer Price Indicator – which covers the period to February 2023. On an annual basis, the monthly All Items CPI rate of increase was 6.8 per cent down from 7.4 per cent. While this signals a sharp decline in the annual rate of inflation, it should be noted that for the last month, the growth in the All Items CPI was zero, a point ignored by the media. So expect to see a fairly rapid decline. Yes, it is proving to be a transitory episode and the dynamics have not justified the rapid interest rate increases we have seen.

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The inflationary episode is being driven by profit gouging and interest rate hikes won’t help much

I have read an interesting reports in the last months that demonstrate there is a shift in thinking about inflation – away from the tired narratives that attempt to implicate excessive government spending, poorly contrived monetary policies (particularly quantitative easing) or drag in the usual suspect – excessive wage demands from workers. All of the usual narratives are very convenient frames in which those with economic power can extract more real income at the expense of the rest of us, who have little economic power. At least, we have been indocrinated to think we have no power. But, of course, if we could overthrow the whole system of capital domination if we were organised enough but that is another story again. Back to the inflation framing. While it was possible to argue that distributional struggle between workers (organised into powerful unions) and corporations (with obvious price setting power in less than competitive industries) was instrumental in propagating the original OPEC oil shock in 1973 into a drawn out inflationary episode, such a narrative falls short in 2022-23. The workers are largely disorganised and compliant now. The new thinking is starting to focus on the role of corporations – one term that is now being used is ‘greedflation’ – to describe this new era of profit gouging and its impact on the inflation trajectory. That shift in focus is warranted and welcome because it highlights the imbalances in the capitalist system and just another way in which it is prone to crises.

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US inflation falling fast as Europe prepares to go back into a deliberate austerity-led crises

The transitory view of the current inflation episode is getting more support from the evidence. Yesterday’s US inflation data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (March 14, 2023) – Consumer Price Index Summary – February 2023 – shows a further significant drop in the inflation rate as some of the key supply-side drivers 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 stupidity that is about to begin in Europe again, as the European Commission starts to flex its muscles after it announced to the Member States that it is back to austerity by the end of this year. And finally, some beauty from Europe in the music segment.

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The current inflationary period is not remotely like the 1970s

In the light of recent debates about whether we are back in the 1970s, where the only ostensible similarity is that inflation has accelerated over the last year or so, I dug into my data archives to remind myself of a few things. One of the problems with dealing with official data is that it gets revised from time to time and time series become discontinuous. So the labour market data for Australia tends to start in February 1978 when the Australian Bureau of Statistics moved to a monthly labour force survey. Researchers who desire to study historical data have to have been around a while and have saved their earlier data collections (such as me). But it is often impossible to match them with the newer publicly available data. You will see in what follows how that plays out. But, I was also interested to return to the past today after the ABS released their latest – Industrial Disputes, Australia – data (released March 9, 2023), which shows that disputes remain at record lows. So in what follows I show you how far removed the current situation is from what happened in the 1970s and this renders the narratives from our central bankers a pack of lies.

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Inflation has probably peaked in Australia – yes, it was a transient episode

Given yesterday’s extensive National Accounts analysis replaced my usual Wednesday blog post, I am using today to discuss a range of issues and provide a musical interlude into your lives for peace. Yesterday’s bad National Accounts data release took the headlines away from another data release from the ABS yesterday – the monthly CPI data results. Inflation is falling in Australia and has probably peaked. The RBA still thinks it is going to hike rates a few more times. As more data comes out, their cover (justifications) are evaporating by the day and it is becoming obvious that they are pushing rates up because they want to reclaim the territory as the ‘boss’ of macroeconomic policy irrespective of the costs and hardships they impose on lower-income Australian families. Shocking really. I also look at the new RadioMMT show which launched last week. And the debate about Covid continues but the evidence is being distorted badly by those who continue to claim it was all a conspiracy to bring us to heel. And then some music.

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Inflation has peaked, the supply side is recovering, and the interest rate rises were for what?

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?

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Australia – quarterly inflation rate declining

Today (January 25, 2023), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Consumer Price Index, Australia – for the December-quarter 2022. It showed that the CPI rose 1.8 per cent in the quarter (down 0.1 point) and over the 12 months by 7.8 per cent (up 0.5 points). So, the annual inflation rate in Australia was higher in the December-quarter, but, the quarterly rate was lower, suggesting that the current episode is losing steam. The major sources of price increases are temporary – overshoots on pre-pandemic travel and holidays, anti-competitive cartel behaviour and the War in Ukraine. These influences are supplemented by shortages of building materials due to bushfires and food price inflation due to the major floods. The correct policy response should be to provide fiscal support for lower-income households to help them cope with the cost of living rises at present. Increasing interest rates again will not solve the problem that is already abating.

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US inflation has peaked and monetary policy had nothing much to do with it

It’s Wednesday, and I have two things to write about briefly before exposing readers to some more music. First, the evidential base for my ‘this inflationary period is transitory’ narrative gains more weight. The latest CPI data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that inflation has peaked in the US and falling rapidly in the goods sector, which started this episode off. The second topic relates to measuring progress in the development and spread of new ideas. It is often difficult to know how far a new framework has penetrated the broader debate. But sometimes things happen that remind me of how far we have to go in changing the framing and language surrounding fiscal capacity and the related topics, that Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) has brought to the fore. We finish with some calming guitar playing.

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The transitory inflation conjecture gains even more data credence

Yesterday (November 30, 2022), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest – Monthly Consumer Price Index Indicator – which is a new data series that the ABS has introduced to augment the quarterly CPI index release. Regular readers will know that I have considered this period of inflation to be transitory, which means that it is likely to dissipate rather quickly once the driving factors abate. It doesn’t mean that those driving factors are necessarily short-term in horizon. They might persist. But the important point is that second-round propagating mechanisms such as the wage-price distributional battle over markups are not present as they were in the 1970s, which is why that episode had a life of its own once the initial oil price supply shock adjustment was made. The other significant aspect of my assessment is that this current inflationary period does not indicate excessive fiscal support nor does it justify central banks hiking interest rates. The drivers at present are originating from the supply-side (pandemic, long Covid, OPEC+ and the Ukraine situation) and are not sensitive to any degree to interest rate changes. I have received a lot of criticism for holding this view. The Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is dead crowd constantly E-mail me or try to push acrid comments on this blog telling me to get another life or end my existing one. The problem for them is that the latest data from around the world is telling me that this period of inflation is peaking as the supply drivers start to wane.

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Australian inflation data – not as scary as most think

Yesterday (October 26, 2022), the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the September-quarter – Consumer Price Index, Australia – which revealed that the quarterly CPI rose by 1.8 per cent (relatively large increase) and rose over the 12 months by 7.3 per cent, the highest annual inflation rate since 1990. The most significant contributors over the year were owner-occupied housing (bushfires wiping out materials), food (floods destroying crops), and gas supplies (cartel profit gouging). So some of the factors driving the inflation are short-term and the others will be resolved by factors outside our control. But with wage pressures absent and the most reliable indicator of medium- to long-term inflation now falling, it is hard to make a case that the rising inflation is now entrenched. The correct policy response should be to provide fiscal support for lower-income households to help them cope with the cost of living rises at present.

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Two diametrically-opposed approaches to dealing with inflation – stupidity versus the Japanese way

Well things are going to get messier with the decision yesterday by the OPEC+ cartel to significantly reduce the oil supply and push up prices. On the one hand, when OPEC was first formed and pushed prices up, while there was significant disruption to oil-dependent nations, the substitution that followed (home oil heating abandoned, larger cars replaced by smaller cars, etc) was ultimately beneficial. So given that we need less cars on roads and less kms travelled by cars, one might consider the move to be fine. But given the way the central banks and treasury departments around the world are behaving at present, the short term impacts of the OPEC+ decision will be very damaging. How citizens endure whatever extra inflationary pressures that might emerge will depend on the fiscal and monetary policy responses. We have two diametrically opposed models: the one that most nations are following (hikes and austerity) versus the Japanese approach. I explain the difference below and predict that the latter will deliver much better outcomes for the people.

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Inflation falling in the US and expectations are sharply in decline

It’s Wednesday and today we discuss the latest inflationary expectations data from the US, which tells me that my assessment that this episode will be a transitory phenomenon, diametric to the experience of the 1979s, was sound, despite the flack I have received over the last several months. The data is now showing consistent, cross-month declines in expected inflation and the latest CPI shows an easing of the general CPI pressure. AS the supply chains return to something like pre-pandemic capacities, then the easing will continue. It is too early to say that this period of elevated CPI rises is over but it sure looks like it and wages have barely moved. Once we get our heads around that I provide some information about an interesting ‘golf’ experiment and finish with some great keyboard playing.

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Corporate profit greed is driving inflationary pressures

Despite all the hysteria about the current inflationary pressures and the reversion of central bank policy committees to the New Keynesian norm – interest rates have to rise to kill off inflation otherwise it becomes a self-fulfilling process where wage demands are made in ‘expectation’ of more inflation and firms (passively in their view) have to pass on the higher unit costs, I remain of the view that this period is transitory. That doesn’t win me any friends (other than my true friends). It also leads to another hysterical line of Twitter-type statements that the Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) have gone silent because they were wrong about fiscal deficits not causing inflation and are too ashamed to admit it. I haven’t gone silent. I have been continuous in my advocacy both privately and publicly. The rise in fiscal deficits during the pandemic and the central bank bond purchases have had little to do with this inflationary episode. Covid, sickness of workers, War, natural disasters (floods, fires) and noncompetitive cartels and energy markets are the reason for the inflation (variously in different countries) and interest rate increases won’t do much at all to target changes in those driving factors. New ECB research (released August 3, 2022) in their Economic Bulletin (Issue 5, 2022) – Wage share dynamics and second-round effects on inflation after energy price surges in the 1970s and today – reinforces my assessment of the situation.

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Long-term inflationary expectations falling in Australia as housing goes into reverse

There is hysteria in the air today after the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the June-quarter – Consumer Price Index, Australia (July 27, 2022). Journalists are jumping over their keyboards to see who can come up with the most alarming headline and narrative. Me? I am calm. The price pressures will soon enough evaporate given their source. Inflation in the June-quarter 2022 rose to 1.7 per cent, down from 2.1 per cent in the March-quarter. The annualised rate of CPI inflation was 6.1 per cent. The most significant contributors over the year were owner-occupied housing, food, automotive fuel and furniture (the latter being largely due to transport costs). But looking at just the quarter results, we can see that housing is now a negative contributor as major government programs which pushed the boom are gone and interest rates are higher. We can do little to alleviate the rising fuel costs (except make public transport free and work from home) and the food inflation is down to the recent massive floods wiping out crops. That will be a temporary influence. So some of the factors driving the inflation are short-term and the others will be resolved by factors outside our control. But with wage pressures absent and the most reliable indicator of medium- to long-term inflation now falling, it is hard to make a case that the rising inflation is now entrenched. The hysteria is unjustified.

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