Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Inflation Won't Stop Holiday Shoppers

 Popular Economics Weekly

When will inflation subside enough to bring down interest rates again? There are estimates that it takes from one year to 10 years to cure large inflation spikes such as occurred this year, based on what pundits and economists see as past history.

But that hasn’t stopped shoppers. Retail sales that account for some half of consumer spending jumped a huge 1.3 percent in October, 7.6 percent YoY.


Consumers are keeping up with inflation, in other words, because it’s the holidays and they want to celebrate their world returning to normal. Dining out at restaurants increased 1.3 percent in October, twice the current inflation rate.

And inflation is already cooling. The Fed has pumped up short-term rates from essentially zero to 4 percent in 2022, which has pummeled stock and bond prices. But financial markets rallied on Tuesday because the Producer Price Index (PPI) for wholesale goods and services continued to decline. Wholesale prices in October rose just 0.2 percent month-month and core inflation without food, energy and trade services declined from 5.6 to 5.4 percent YoY.

My bet is that inflation will drop quickly during the coming winter as supply chains continue to improve, which ground to a halt during the worldwide pandemic lockdowns.

For instance, the NY Federal Reserve’s Global Supply Chain Pressure Index (GSCPI) stated as much in its latest release. “The GSCPI’s year-to-date movements suggest that global supply chain pressures are falling back in line with historical levels,” it said.

It means that consumer prices will continue to decline as well, since the PPI measures the raw materials and data that go into retail products and services.

Alas, retail inflation is still too high, since the CPI declined to 7.7 percent in October compared to a year ago, down from 8.2 percent in September. Predictions are all over the map as to when the inflation rate will return to a more normal range. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said in recent testimony it could take several years to return to the Federal Reserve’s two percent target.

Other pundits are predicting as much as 10 years, because they cite the 1970’s era of stagflation. Inflation soared to as high 14 percent in 1981 after 10 years of wage-price spirals. It was another 10 years before inflation returned to its more normal 2-3 percent range.

But this inflationary spiral has lasted just months, not years as in the 1970s, as Nobel Prize-winner and former Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke has pointed out. So, there’s no reason for anyone to press the panic button, stock and bond traders included. Consumers are riding this inflation wave just fine to date.

Why shouldn’t they be upbeat, with Americans still fully employed?

The New York Fed also publishes a Survey of Consumer Expectations of inflation also shows inflation is a short-term problem. “Median one- and three-year-ahead inflation expectations increased to 5.9 percent and 3.1 percent from 5.4 percent and 2.9 percent, respectively. (But) The median five-year-ahead inflation expectations, meanwhile, rose by 0.2 percentage point to 2.4 percent.”

Wholesale prices are still high. The Producer Price Index for final demand in the U.S. rose 0.2 percent month-over-month in October of 2022, the same as a downwardly revised 0.2 percent increase in September. Goods cost went up 0.6 percent, the largest advance since a 2.2 percent rise in June, mainly pushed by a 5.7 percent jump in gasoline cost. Prices for diesel fuel, fresh and dry vegetables, residential electric power, chicken eggs, and oil field and gas field machinery also advanced. In contrast, the index for passenger cars declined 1.5 percent. Meanwhile, services cost fell 0.1 percent, the first decline since November of 2020.

So, the inflation outlook is muddled, but consumers’ inflation expectations give us a better picture of how consumers will behave in the future. It is another ingredient that helps to determine the Fed’s next move, and when shoppers buy or hold.

All this news backs my bet of inflation falling back to historical levels as soon as next summer.

Harlan Green © 2022

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