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Summary of My Post-CPI Tweets


Here is a summary of my post-CPI tweets. You can follow me @inflation_guy:

  • Well, that was boring. CPI exactly as expected. Although frankly, most big shops expected +0.2% on core (me too).
  • Weird month where higher fuel prices seem to have taken edge off Shelter, but lower gasoline prices pushed Transp down!
  • Apparel down, and New cars & trucks down despite rising in PPI. So much for new PPI. Medical care commodities up though…
  • Medical Care as a whole +0.3%. Only 7.6% of the whole CPI, but reverses a recent trend caused by last year’s sequester.
  • Core services remained at 2.3% y/y, core goods declined to -0.3%. My proxy, though, is rising so this latter won’t continue.
  • Striking – core less shelter now at +0.933% y/y, the lowest since the real deflation crisis in 2004.
  • accelerating CPI categories: Housing, Med Care, Other (52.4%), Decel: Apparel, Educ/Comm (10.5%). Unch: 37.1%
  • Primary rents +2.88% y/y, virtually unch from +2.87%. But Owners’ Equiv Rent +2.517% from +2.488%.
  • New & Used cars and trucks under tremendous pressure, +0.3% y/y, and that’s 7.5% of core CPI. And Apparel (another 4%) has flatlined.

The reason that most big shops – and me too – expected +0.2% or even +0.3% on core, as opposed to the +0.13% that we got, boils down to three things: second, the housing part of core CPI, which is huge, is clearly accelerating and continues to do so. Second, core goods, which represents most of the rest, has been flat or deflating for a while, and normally that part of inflation is more mean-reverting.

The housing part of that view is working out. The Shelter subcomponent of Housing (which is ¾ of it, after extracting utilities and household furnishings and operations) is now rising at 2.58%, the fastest rate since 2008. Owners’ Equivalent Rent, the largest single component of the CPI, is at 2.52% y/y, and as I’ve illustrated often – here comes that chart again – there is every reason to expect this to continue. OER should be in the 3.3%-3.5% range by year-end.

morehousing

Core Goods, on the other hand, remains stuck in the mud. There was some reason to expect a rise in that index this month, as the Passenger Cars component of PPI rose +0.5% (but new vehicles in the CPI rose only 0.08% m/m), and the pharmaceuticals part of PPI was +2.7% (but only +0.9% in the CPI). In all likelihood, this suggests that core goods will move higher in the months ahead.

However, the weakness in Apparel and in vehicles has a commonality – those are sectors that are either sourced from non-US manufacturers or (in the case of vehicles) receive heavy competition from non-US manufacturers, and especially Japanese manufacturers in the case of autos. The recent strength of the USD with respect to the Yen and Yuan is not irrelevant here. Although early 2014 has seem some reversal in that trend with respect to the Yen, it’s not likely to have a serious reversal for a while – the Yen is going to keep getting weaker, and that will keep pressure on goods prices in the US.

Indeed, by one measure price dynamics in the US are closer to deflation than they have been since 2004. And it’s not a measure which should be taken lightly: core inflation, ex-shelter, is only 0.9% y/y, as the chart below (source: Enduring Investments) shows.

exhousing

In the mid-2000s, the Fed flirted much more with deflation than they thought they were, because the housing bubble hid the underlying dynamic. Conversely, in 2010 we weren’t really very close to deflation, but the fact that housing was collapsing made it appear that we were. You can see both of these episodes on the chart. It is possible that the 2004-type stealth deflation could be happening again, but I don’t think so for one big reason: in 2004, money growth was in the 4-5% range as the economy was recovering, which created disinflationary tendencies. But now, we’re coming off a period of 8-10% money growth, and it’s still at 6%. It’s much harder to get deflation in such a circumstance.

And, with rents rising smartly, there is almost no chance that core inflation ends 2014 lower than it currently is. I continued to expect core inflation to move towards 3% over the course of this year (and median CPI to reach that level).

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