Posts Tagged ‘deflation’

Stagflation Rears Its Ugly Head

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) climbed by 0.5 percent in July, according to a Labor Department report.  That came after a decrease of 0.2 percent the previous month.  Rising inflation cuts consumers’ buying power.  Average pay, when adjusted for inflation, fell in July and has declined by 1.3 percent in the last year.  Over the last 12 months, prices have gone up 3.6 percent.  Core prices over the last year have risen 1.8 percent — the largest increase since December of 2009. 

“Once again, the consumer was pushed to the wall by rising retail costs,” said Joel Naroff, chief economist at Naroff Economic Advisors.  “It’s bad enough that workers are not getting any pay increases but the surge in retail prices is cutting into spendable income.”  Although many economists and the Federal Reserve expect that higher food and energy prices will prove short lived, that offers little good news to Americans who must find the money to pay for food and gas.  “This is not welcome news for Fed officials who are trying to justify QE3,” First Trust analysts said.

The news also raises the specter of stagflation, a circumstance when the inflation rate is high and the economic growth rate is slow.  Writing for CBS Money Watch, Dan Burrows says that “Prices are growing rapidly but the economy is not.  Sound familiar?  It’s called stagflation — something we haven’t had in three decades — and markets are getting more jittery about its possibility with each passing data point.  A stagnant economy plus inflation equals stagflation, and it could actually be worse for American households this time around, should it come to pass.  Yes, inflation rates of three percent to four percent are nothing compared to the double-digit inflation Americans lived with in the 1970s and early 1980s.  But then households were in much better shape back then because they carried much less debt, be it through mortgages, home equity loans, credit cards or student loans.”

The Hill’s Vicki Needham writes that “The energy index has risen 19 percent over the past year.  Overall, food prices increased 0.4 percent in July, with larger increases in dairy and fruit prices.  The cost of meat, coffee and vegetables all increased.  The core index, excluding volatile food and energy, was up 0.2 percent, slightly below the 0.3 percent increase in each of the previous two months.  Prices are up 3.6 percent from a year ago, the same amount as in May and June.  Core prices are 1.8 percent higher than they were a year earlier, the largest increase in two years, with rent and the rising cost of hotels pushing up housing prices by the most in three years.  Although prices are up, the index of core prices, used by the Federal Reserve to gauge inflation, is within the target range of 1.5 and two percent.  Core consumer inflation is expected to remain between 1.5 and 1.8 percent this year, the Fed has said.  The cost of apparel increased sharply last month, as clothing prices were up 1.2 percent, the third consecutive month of increases.  Clothing costs have increased 3.1 percent during the past 12 months, the largest yearly increase since July 1992.”

With an economy sluggish, and many calling a recession inevitable, the latest CPI number fits with recently released Producer Price Indexes (PPI) which showed prices rising throughout different levels of production.  While recessions are usually deflationary, rising measures of inflation have sparked fears of stagflation.

Surprisingly, the Chicago area was relatively immune to July’s inflationary numbers.  Consumer prices in metropolitan Chicago declined 0.4 percent in July from June as energy prices fell, according to the Labor Department.  With the exception of food and energy, prices were also down 0.4 percent.  Compared with last year, prices rose 3.2 percent and there was a 17.8 percent spike in energy costs.  When food and energy are taken out of the equation, prices rose 1.6 percent compared with last year.  Food prices remained the same as June, but rose 3.5 percent from July 2010.  Energy prices declined one percent from June as gasoline prices dropped 4.2 percent.  Gas prices were 37.3 percent higher than in 2010.  The biggest price declines were in education and communication, down 3.8 percent; clothing was down 2.6 percent; and transportation was down 1.7 percent.  Housing costs rose 0.5 percent.

Fed Likely to Act Anew to Stimulate the Economy

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

Regional Federal Reserve presidents are pushing for action to avoid deflation.  The Federal Reserve is considering new action to simultaneously stimulate the economy and prevent the possibility of deflation.  Charles Evans, President of the Chicago Fed, recently said that the central bank needs to act to prevent the inflation rate from falling, saying the U.S. economy faces a “bona fide liquidity trap” and that additional accommodation is not even a “close call.”  Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren, agrees, noting “insuring against the risk of deflation may be cheaper than” attempting to deal with it once it becomes a reality.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is working with the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) to devise a strategy to purchase additional assets aimed at averting deflation and cutting the nine percent unemployment rate, noting that there is a “case for further action.”  Evans supports a “reasonable period of time” as long as it is communicated “regularly and often” to the public.  This type of policy would complement large asset purchases and represent a change to the FOMC statement that they will keep interest rates close to zero for “an extended period.”

“The central banks of the world, including ours, have been on an inflation targeting regime and moving to a brand new regime like that is quite difficult to blame,” said Alan Blinder, formerly a Fed Vice Chairman and currently a Princeton economist.  The action poses “the danger of undermining credibility.”  Other Fed officials are worried that the expectation of lower inflation will become a self-fulfilling prophesy.  That might impede demand by increasing the cost of borrowing money.

Threats To the Economy Averted

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

Good news for the economy!  Deflation is unlikely and jobless claims are shrinking.  Two significant threats to the economy are receding, although the recovery still has a long way to go. One of the threats was the specter of deflation – which has not occurred since the 1930s – now belied by the 0.3 percent inflation rate reported for August, and driven primarily by rising food and energy prices, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The second is that another round of mass layoffs looks unlikely now, given the third drop in jobless claims in four weeks.

First-time applications for unemployment benefits fell by 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 450,000 recently, the lowest level in two months, according to the Department of Labor.  In Illinois, for example, the unemployment rate fell to 10.1 percent in August, the eighth straight month that the rate was steady or declined.

Chris Rupkey, an economist with Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, described August’s spike in unemployment claims a “false alarm.  The labor markets are stable and companies are not increasing layoffs.”  David Resler, chief U.S. economist at Nomura Securities agrees, noting that the August spike likely resulted from temporary census jobs that came to an end.

Robert Knakal on the Bulls vs. the Bears – Who Do You Trust?

Monday, October 18th, 2010

Robert Knakal discusses whether the bulls or bears are right about the economy. Who’s right about the state of the economy and commercial real estate – the bulls or the bears?  Robert Knakal, chairman of New York-based Massey Knakal Realty Services, weighs both sides to help us cut through the mixed messages.

In a recent interview for the Alter NOW Podcasts, Knakal noted that the bulls like to cite the best back-to-back GDP growth since 2003 – 5.9 percent in the 4th quarter of 2009 and 3.2 percent in the 1st quarter of 2010.  Bears, on the other hand, believe that weak consumer spending will cause the GDP to grow at an anemic two to three percent for the rest of the year.  Knakal views this is an interesting dynamic because of the growing number of economists who back the bears’ position – numbers that are well below the trend coming out of a recessionary period.

Knakal, a graduate of the Wharton School of Business, also writes StreetWise, a nationally syndicated real estate industry blog, is concerned that many loans made by community and regional banks are five-year loans, which will mature in 2011 and 2012.  These loans raise the loudest alarms, because many are still performing thanks to very advantageous interest rates – possibly in the form of interest-only loans or with interest reserves that are carrying the property.  When these loans – which now could have an interest rate as low as two percent – mature, it will be renewed at a 5 ½ or six percent interest rate that will require a de-leveraging process.  Some $10 billion banks are carrying half of all their commercial real estate exposure in Small Business Administration (SBA) loans.

Despite the bears’ lack of confidence in the commercial real estate markets, capital is available to credit-worthy users chasing high-credit projects.  The amount of available private equity is currently estimated at approximately $173 billion.  Public REITs raised more in common stock offerings in 2009 than they did in the previous nine years.  Non-public REITs are expected to raise $10 billion this year.  Sovereign wealth funds are said to have access to an astonishing $3.5 trillion.  What Knakal cautions us to recognize is that these often represent the same pools of equity and to draw the distinction between capital that has been promised and that which is actually available.

 
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