Monday, June 13, 2022

Higher Inflation Doesn't Mean Stagflation

 Financial FAQs

The current headlines would have us believe the bipartisan $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan and $1.2 trillion American Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act approved overwhelmingly by both Democrats and Republicans in 2021 will cause prolonged inflation and perhaps lead to a recession.

What the twin 2021 bills have done instead is create record employment, with full employment achieved 26 months after the COVID recession, vs. the 76 months it took to reach full employment after the Great Recession, which was because congress shortchanged the prior recovery with too little aid.

Former Fed Chair Ben Bernanke said on Fareed Zakaria’s GPS Sunday that he doubts that the current inflation surge might turn into another stagflationary episode. The 1970’s stagflation was caused by 14 years of high inflation, whereas we are suffering from just 6 months of higher inflation, after 40 years with very low inflation since the 1970s.

A recurrence of the stagflation of the 1970s is only possible if rising interest rates engineered by the Fed cause a prolonged slowdown in business activity and consumers spending. The 1970’s inflationary spiral was caused by policies that enabled workers to push up wages every time there was a spike in inflation. 

Workers’ salaries today are barely keeping up with inflation and declining, rather than staying ahead of it, which means that wages, some two-thirds of product costs, won't be part of the inflation equation this time.

The rate of inflation over the past year, based on the more reliable PCE Index, slowed to 6.3 percent in April from a 40-year high of 6.6 percent in March, the first decline in a year and a half.

May’s U.S. CPI surge of 8.6 percent was concentrated in three categories: airfares, used car prices and shelter costs, all in the service industries. Most of the inflation to date is in the goods sector. Surging shelter costs will be the most worrisome trend and that the Fed will watch most closely.

Higher inflation is occurring all over the world from the same factors, which signals that it’s mostly about rising food and energy prices affected by panicky traders worried about food and energy shortages. For example, Russia’s inflation rate is currently18 percent, Turkey’s 70 percent and the EU inflation rate is 8 percent.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the sanctions that it triggered account for more than a third of the 40-year high CPI annual inflation of 8.6 percent, according to Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, as reported by MarketWatch.

The real question is whether longer term inflation is embedded in consumers’ expectations as happened in the 1970s. But that would mean the so-called ‘supply-shocks’ from COVID, China, and the Ukraine war that are the main cause of the current inflation rate don’t eventually subside.Why wouldn't they?

Harlan Green © 2022

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