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Summary of My Post-CPI Tweets

Below is a summary of my post-CPI tweets. You can (and should!) follow me @inflation_guy or sign up for email updates to my occasional articles here. Investors with interests in this area be sure to stop by Enduring Investments. Plus…buy my book about money and inflation, just published! The title of the book is What’s Wrong with Money? The Biggest Bubble of All; order from Amazon here.

  • In prep for CPI: Econs forecasting about 0.15% core; Cleveland Fed’s Nowcast is 0.18%; avg of last 4 months is 0.20%.
  • So, econs which have been too bullish on econ for a year (see citi surprise index) are bearish on CPI.
  • If we get any m/m core less than 0.20% (even 0.19%), y/y will round to 2.1% b/c dropping off high 2015 April.
  • But after that, next 8 months from 2015 were <0.20% so any downtick wouldn’t be start of something new.
  • Hard to tell but the core CPI print was SLIGHTLY above expectations. 0.195%, so y/y was 2.147%.
  • In other words, if someone charged another nickel for a candy bar somewhere we would have had 2.2% again. <<hyperbole
  • That 0.195% m/m was lower than April 2015, but higher than May, June, July, Aug, Sep, Nov, and Dec.
  • Core services unch at 3.0%; core goods downticked to -0.5% y/y.
  • y/y Medical Care decelerated for second month in a row, down to 2.98% y/y; still looks to be in a broad uptrend from 2% in 2014. [ed note: chart added for clarity]

medcarecpi

  • Within Medical Care, medicinal drugs accelerated, prof svcs was flat. Hospital svcs dropped from 4.33 to 3.15% y/y
  • Hospital services oscillates – we’ll probably get that back to 4%-4.5% which will push med care back up.
  • Primary Rents 3.73% from 3.66%. OER 3.15% from 3.12%. Some were expecting deceleration there. Not us!
  • Lodging Away from Home dropped to 1.32% from 2.27%. That, and various home furnishings, is why Housing subcat went to 2.12 vs 2.14.
  • But Rents and OER are the stable measures…not Lodging, not furnishings.
  • Core ex-housing fell to 1.39% from 1.48%, but again that’s due to elements of med care and housing that are likely to rebound.
  • Lots of movement within Apparel but overall nothing. The February pop looks like a one-off.
  • Overall, a more buoyant number than expected and the stuff holding core CPI down are the transient things.
  • Biggest m/m declines: infants’/toddlers’ apparel (-26.5% annualized), fresh fruits & veggies; women’s apparel; Lodging away from home.
  • Biggest m/m outliers: Motor Fuel (+152.3% annualized), Fuel Oil, Processed Fruits & Veggies; Motor Vehicle Insurance.
  • My estimate of median CPI is actually 0.28% m/m and 2.46% y/y. But…
  • …but the median category this month may be affected by regional housing, and I don’t have the BLS factors. So grain of salt needed.
  • This summarizes the inflation story. Rents and Services ex-rents both rising ~3%. Core goods is the anchor.

threecat

Discussion: after last month’s surprising m/m core CPI print of +0.07%, many were questioning whether that was the outlier, or whether the +0.29% and +0.28% of January and February were the outliers. The answer might be that they are all outliers, as this month’s print was very close to the 4-month average. But even so, +0.2% m/m would produce a 2.4% core inflation number by the year’s end. That’s consistent with what we are being told by Median inflation. Both figures would suggest core PCE, after all of the temporary effects are removed, is essentially at or slightly above the Fed’s 2% target.

There are two pertinent questions at this juncture. The first is whether the Fed will feel any urgency to raise rates more quickly because of this data. The answer to that, I think, is clearly “no.” This Federal Reserve’s reaction function seems to be overly (and overtly) tilted towards growth indicators – and even more than that, their forecast of growth indicators. The majority of the Committee also believes that inflation expectations are “anchored” and so inflation can’t really move higher very quickly. They only pay lip service to inflation concerns, and honestly they aren’t even very good at the lip service.

The second question is where inflation goes next. Whether the Federal Reserve raises the target overnight rate or not, the question of inflation is relevant for markets. And the indicators seem to be fairly clear: the larger and more persistent categories are seeing price increases of around 3% or more, while the main drag comes from a “core goods” component that is highly influenced by the lagged effect of dollar strength (see chart, source Bloomberg).

coregoodsvsusd

Recently, the dollar has been weakening marginally but still is in a broad uptrend (looking at the broad, trade-weighted dollar). But if the buck merely goes flat, core goods will start to move higher. And that means even if core services remain steady, core inflation should push towards 3% later this year.

This doesn’t sound like much but it would be highly significant (and surprising) for many observers, investors, and consumers. Core inflation has not been above 3% for two decades (see chart, source Bloomberg).

coreCPIunder3

This means – incredibly – that many students in college today have never seen core inflation above 3%, and more importantly many investors have not seen core inflation above 3% during their investment lives. When core inflation breaches that level, it will feel like hyperinflation to some people! And I do not think markets will like it.

Irrational Lugubriousness on Inflation

Today the 1-year CPI swap rate closed at 1.77%, the highest rate since 2014 (see chart, source Bloomberg).

1ycpiswap

The CPI swap (which, as an aside, is a better indicator of expected inflation than are breakevens, for technical reasons discussed here for people who truly have insomnia) indicates that headline inflation is expected to be about 1.77% over the next year. That’s nearly double the current headline inflation rate, but well below the Fed’s target of roughly 2.3% on a CPI basis. But at least on appearances, investors seem to be adjusting to the reality that inflation is headed higher.

Unfortunately, appearances can be deceiving. And in this case, they are. The headline inflation rate is of course the combination of core inflation plus food inflation and energy inflation; as a practical matter most of the volatility in the headline rate comes from the volatility endemic in energy markets. I’ve observed before that this leads to unreasonable volatility in long-term inflation expectations, but in short-term inflation expectations it makes perfect sense that they ought to be significantly driven by expectations for energy prices. The market recognizes that energy is the source of inflation volatility over the near-term, which is why the volatility curve for inflation options looks strikingly like the volatility curve for crude oil options and not at all like the volatility curve for LIBOR (see chart, source Enduring Investments).

volcompar

The shape of the energy futures curves themselves also tell us what amount of energy price change we should include in our estimate of future headline inflation (or, alternatively, what energy price change we can hedge out to arrive at the market’s implied bet on core inflation). I am illustrating this next point with the crude oil futures curve because it doesn’t have the wild oscillations that the gasoline futures curve has, but in practice we use the gasoline futures since that is closer to the actual consumption item that drives the core-headline difference. Here is the contract chart for crude oil (Source: Bloomberg):

crudeccrv

So, coarsely, the futures curve implies that crude oil is expected to rise about $4, or about 9%, over the next year. This will add a little bit to core inflation to give us a higher headline rate than the core inflation rate. Obviously, that might not happen, but the point is that it is (coarsely) arbitrageable so we can use this argument to back into what the market’s perception of forward core inflation is.

And the upshot is that even though 1-year CPI swaps are at the highest level since 2014, the implied core inflation rate has been steadily falling. Put another way, the rise in short inflation swaps has been less than the rally in energy would suggest it should have been. The chart below shows both of these series (source: Enduring Investments).

ImpliedCore

So – while breakevens and inflation swaps have been rallying, in fact this rally is actually weaker than it should have been, given what has been happening in energy markets. Investors, in short, are still irrationally lugubrious about the outlook for price pressures in the US over the next few years. Remember, core CPI right now is 2.2%. How likely is it to decelerate 1.5% or more over the next twelve months?

(**Administrative Note: Get your copy of my new book What’s Wrong with Money: The Biggest Bubble of All! Here is the Amazon link.)

Categories: Commodities, CPI, Good One, Theory

Summary of My Post-CPI Tweets

Following is a concatenation of my post-CPI tweets. You can follow me @inflation_guy. Due to scheduling issues, I don’t have any further development of the observations highlighted below.

  • OK, 4 minutes until CPI. If I had to guess what a theme, I would say the question of whether apparel and medical care trends continue.
  • Is apparel the canary in the coal mine from recent jumps? And is CPI or PPI right about medical care? The latter has been softer.
  • Weak CPI number! 0.1%/0.1% and y/y core slipped to 2.2%!
  • even weaker than that…+0.07%, 2.20% exactly y/y on core. That’s a really big surprise.
  • first glance – medical care y/y slipped, and apparel y/y plunged. getting more detail
  • core services slipped to 3.0% from 3.1%; core goods dropped to -0.4% from +0.1%
  • while i’m waiting for more detail…this CPI doesn’t mean it’s done going up; just that we can’t reject the hypothesis that it’s not.
  • have to remember these are experiments – underlying inflation rate not knowable so we can only reject hypotheses.
  • my suspicion: we may be able to lean more to the “apparel was seasonal” hypothesis but jury is out on medical care normalization.
  • ok – apparel -0.64% from +0.89% y/y. medical care 3.29% from 3.50%. housing up small, recreation, education/comm, other all up small.
  • within apparel: Mens suits/sportcoats/outerwear -7.6% from -4.6%. Mens furnishings -1.2% from +2.2%. Mens pants/shorts -5.8% from +2.4%
  • but WOMENS outerwear 5.5% from 3.2%; suits & separates +0.2% from -0.3%. Dresses down though, -6.3% from -4.3%.
  • so could be seasonal…but we will have to wait to know for sure. weird, anyway.
  • in housing: Primary rents 3.66% vs 3.68%; OER 3.12% vs 3.16%. lodging away from home 2.27% v 4.19%. so rise in housing was HH energy.
  • In Medical: drugs 2.49% v 2.34%. Prof svcs 2.27% vs 2.54%. hospital 4.33% v 4.90%. Insuance 6.20% v 5.97%. Similar read to PPI.
  • PPI and CPI don’t have much overlap, or we would rely more on the earlier PPI. So hard to read much.
  • does mean core PCE not likely to converge as quickly with core/median CPI.
  • ok last tweet: early estimate on median still looks like +0.17%, 2.39%, down vy slightly from 2.43% y/y.

None of this changes the underlying focus: median at 2.4% and core converging upward to it. And there’s still no sign that housing is about to weaken. Core goods had been strengthening; this has been arrested but it may be a function of the early Easter (however, Easter occurred for men, too…). As I suspected early – this is a holding-pattern number, certainly weaker than inflation bulls expected but it doesn’t dash the underlying trends…yet. This makes the April number, released next month, more important!

And none of this changes the underlying points I made in a Marketwatch opinion article that appeared yesterday. You can read that article here.

Categories: CPI, Tweet Summary

Is Apparel the Canary in the Coal Mine?

March 21, 2016 6 comments

(**Administrative Note: Get your copy of my new book What’s Wrong with Money: The Biggest Bubble of All! Here is the Amazon link.)

Last week, one of the curious parts of the CPI report was the large jump (1.6% month/month, or nearly 20% annualized) in Apparel. At the time, I dismissed this rise with a hand-wave, pointing out that it Apparel is only 4% of core and so I don’t worry as much about Apparel as I do, say, Medical Care or Housing.

But a Twitter follower called to my attention the words of @IanShepherdson, one of the real quality economists out there (and one whom I read regularly when he was with High Frequency Economics, and I was at Natixis). He hasn’t always been on top of the inflation story, but he nailed the housing bubble story in 2008 and I have great respect for him. Ian apparently said of Apparel that it could be the proverbial “canary in the coal mine” when it comes to inflation, since apparel tends to respond more quickly to inflationary pressures since it is a very competitive and very homogeneous category.

So I figured it was worth taking a longer look at inflation.

Now, I should point out that I probably have a bias about getting over-excited about inflation. Back in 2011-12, Apparel prices started to accelerate rapidly for the first time in a generation- and that’s no hyperbole. As the chart below (Source: Bloomberg) shows, the price index for seasonally-adjusted apparel prices went sideways-to-down-to-sideways between 1992 and 2012.

apparel

You can see from this why I may have gotten excited in 2012. Between 1970 and 1992, apparel prices rose at a very steady rate. Then, as post-Cold War globalization kicked into high gear, apparel manufacture moved from being largely produced in the US to being largely produced outside of the US; the effect on prices is apparent on the chart. But in 2011-2012, the price index began to move higher at almost the same slope as it had been moving prior to the globalization dividend. My thought back then was that the dividend only happens once: at first, input costs are stable or declining because high-cost US labor is replaced with low-cost overseas labor – but eventually, once all apparel is produced overseas, then the composition effect is exhausted and input prices will rise with the cost of labor again. In 2012, I thought that might be happening.

And then Apparel flattened out.

You can see, though, from the right side of the chart the latest spike that has Ian (and maybe me) so excited. The month/month rise was the third largest in the last 30 years, exceeded only by February 2009 and February 2000. As an aside, the fact that the three largest monthly spikes were all in February ought to make you at least a little suspicious that some of what is going on may be a seasonal-adjustment issue, but let’s leave that aside for now because I’m rolling.

What about the assertion that Apparel may be the ‘canary in the coal mine,’ giving an early indication on inflation? The chart below (source: Bloomberg, and Enduring Investments calculations) shows the year-over-year change in Apparel prices (on the right-hand scale) versus core CPI (on the left-hand scale).

apparelcanary

I do have to admit, there is something suggestive about that chart although it is at least somewhat visual since I can’t find a consistent lag structure in the data. But the clear turns do seem to happen first in Apparel, often. Ah, but here is the fun chart. For the next chart, I’ve also taken out Shelter from core inflation, since Shelter especially in recent years has been largely driven by pretty crazy monetary policy, as I have pointed out before many times. (And if you want to read what I think that’s likely to lead to, read my book.) To make it fair, I also removed Apparel itself since once Shelter and Food and Energy are all removed, Apparel is starting to matter.

apparelcanary2

In this chart, you can start to see a pretty interesting tendency for Apparel to perhaps lead, slightly – and so, perhaps, Ian is right. In this case, I certainly wouldn’t want to bet against him since I think that’s where inflation is going too. I just wasn’t sure that Apparel was a strong part of the argument. (But at the same time, notice the big spike in Apparel inflation in 2012 preceded a rise in ex-housing core, but not a large or sustained rise in ex-housing core).

The table below shows the breakdown of Apparel into its constituent parts. The first column is the category, the second column is the weight (in overall CPI), the third column is the current y/y change, and the fourth column is the previous y/y change.

Category Weights y/y change prev y/y change
  Apparel 3.1% 0.892% -0.530%
    Men’s apparel 0.63% -0.445% 0.483%
    Boys’ apparel 0.16% -0.443% 1.350%
    Women’s apparel 1.04% 0.230% -2.127%
    Girls’ apparel 0.21% -1.274% -2.283%
    Men’s footwear 0.21% 2.854% -0.461%
    Boys’ and girls’ footwear 0.17% 2.506% -0.046%
    Women’s footwear 0.31% 0.730% 0.926%
    Watches 0.08% 8.525% 0.805%
    Jewelry 0.13% 6.156% 2.874%

I look at this to see whether there’s just one category that is having an outsized move; if there were, then we would worry more about one-off effects (say, the rollout of a new kind of women’s blouse that is suddenly all the rage). It is interesting that Men’s apparel and Boys’ apparel decelerated, while most everything else accelerated, but this happens all the time in the Apparel category. Actually, this is a pretty balanced set of sub-indices, for Apparel.

Now, I’m still not 100% sure this isn’t a seasonal-adjustment issue. It could be related to weather, or day count (29 days in February!), or some bottleneck at a port that caused a temporary blip in prices. I want to see a few more months before getting excited like I did in 2012! But we have had a couple of bad core CPI prints, and we also saw pressure in Medical Care so it is fair to say the number of alarm bells has broadened from one (Housing) to several (Housing, Medical Care, Apparel). It is fair to be concerned about price pressures at this point.

Categories: Causes of Inflation, CPI, Good One Tags:

Summary of My Post-CPI Tweets

March 16, 2016 2 comments

Below is a summary of my post-CPI tweets. You can (and should!) follow me @inflation_guy or sign up for email updates to my occasional articles here. Investors with interests in this area be sure to stop by Enduring Investments. Plus…buy my book about money and inflation, just published this month! The title of the book is What’s Wrong with Money? The Biggest Bubble of All, order from Amazon here.

  • Good morning and welcome to another wonderful CPI day!
  • Three notes before CPI prints in 17 minutes: First, the market is expecting a “soft” 0.2% core (something like 0.16%, rounding up)
  • Second: If we get exactly 0.2% core, then y/y will round higher to 2.3%. Third: if we get exactly 0.3%, y/y core will round to 2.4%.
  • Highest core print since the crisis was 2.32% in 2012. We have a shot of exceeding that today with a robust print.
  • Ten minutes to CPI and time for 1 more coffee and a commercial message: please buy my new book! http://amzn.to/21uYse8
  • whoopsie, core CPI +0.3%. Actually 0.28%, puts y/y at 2.34%. Yayy, a new post-crisis record!
  • Ouch, seems like a big jump in y/y Medical Care, waiting for the breakdown. If so, that makes core PCE jump even more (again).
  • So back to back months we’ve had 0.29% and 0.28%. I hate to say I told you so but…
  • I said 2.33%, Actually 2.34%. We were VERY close to printing 2.4% y/y & setting off panic at the Fed. Which is abt 4 yrs overdue.
  • I should say 4 years and $2 trillion overdue.
  • [retweet from @boes_] Core consumer price inflation ex-shelter really accelerating: was 1.6% year over year in February

Cdq368CW8AALaxb

  • core cpi. What, me worry?

whatmeworry

  • while I wait for my sheets to calculate, let me stress this is not meaningless for the FOMC meeting today.
  • Arguments for waiting another meeting before raising rates are very thin. https://mikeashton.wordpress.com/2016/03/14/feeble-arguments-against-a-rate-hike/
  • i have got to put this database on a faster computer. OK, core services 3.1% from 3% and core goods +0.1% from -0.1%.
  • first positive y/y in core goods in two years.
  • Housing: 2.12% from 2.10%. Primary rents (3.68% from 3.71%) and OER (unch at 3.16%) are NOT the drivers of the core jump.
  • Lodging away from home 4.19% vs 2.67%, but that’s a small piece of CPI (<1%)
  • Apparel had big jump in y/y rate to 0.89% from -0.53%, but again Apparel as a whole is 3% of headline, 4% of core.
  • Medical care: 3.50% from 3.00%. Yep.
  • Drugs 2.34% from 2.21%. Professional svcs 2.54% from 2.08%. Hospital svcs 4.90% from 4.32%. Health insurance 5.97% from 4.76%. Ouch.
  • Med care is ~10% of core, so that 50bp jump is 0.05% on core.
  • And remember, Medical care gets a HIGHER WEIGHT in the Fed’s preferred measure, core PCE.
  • U-G-L-Y CPI ain’t got no alibi. It’s ugly (woot! woot!) it’s ugly.
  • The good news is pretty thin gruel. Median CPI should be +0.22% or so, keeping y/y around 2.42%. At least it isn’t running away yet.
  • Also, NEXT month we roll off an 0.21% from the y/y figure. So the hurdle will be higher for an uptick in core CPI.
  • Like I said, thin gruel. There can be no doubt whatsoever that deflation risks are zero for the foreseeable future.
  • Stocks are doing tremendously well with this, only -9 points or so S&P futures. This is awful news for equities.
  • …but some observers like to spin “rising inflation” as “sign of robust growth.” Nope. See “1970s” in your encyclopedia.
  • The only way this is good news is if you recently wrote a book on inflation. Which, as it turns out, I did: http://amzn.to/1RNTjZu
  • Distribution of price changes. You can be forgiven for seeing this as giving the Fed the finger.

distribution

As much as I like to talk, there’s just not a lot more to say. This number is awful, as it not only was well above expectations (the m/m figure was about double the rise which analysts expected) but also it wasn’t driven by shelter but rather by Apparel (a little) and – worst of all – Medical Care. Here is a chart of y/y Medical Care (Source: Bloomberg).

medcare

Here is a subcomponent of medical care, “Professional Services” (Source: Bloomberg).

proserv

And finally, again, here’s the context. This chart (Source: Bloomberg) shows median inflation (top line), core inflation converging on it (middle line), and core PCE shooting higher (bottom line). Note that the top and bottom lines are not updated for the most-recent month.

threeinflchart

At this hour, stocks  are inexplicably unchanged. This is awful news for stocks, which tend to be most-highly valued when inflation is low and stable and the Fed is quiescent. Now we have inflation that is moderate, but rising, and a Fed which is not only active, but with numbers like this may eventually become more so. If they do not, it is only because growth is weak (and weakening)…and someone please explain to me why that is a positive environment for stocks? One can make an argument that bonds can do okay if growth flags (even though growth does not cause or lead inflation), because real rates are too high for the level of nominal rates and that could conceivably reach equilibrium by TIPS rallying rather than nominal bonds selling off. But it’s a hard argument to be bullish on the big two asset classes. (However, I expect Wall Street to make that argument loudly.)

Summary of My Post-CPI Tweets

February 19, 2016 2 comments

Below is a summary of my post-CPI tweets. You can (and should!) follow me @inflation_guy or sign up for email updates to my occasional articles here. Investors with interests in this area be sure to stop by Enduring Investments. Plus…sign up to receive notice when my book is published! The title of the book is What’s Wrong with Money?: The Biggest Bubble of All, and if you would like to be on the notification list to receive an email when the book is published, simply send an email to WWWM@enduringinvestments.com. You can also pre-order online.

  • whoopsie daisy! core CPI +0.3%.
  • …actually +0.29%, so not just a barely-round-up thing. Y/Y t0 2.22%. Both comfortably above consensus.
  • Next month, we drop off a +0.16% from last year so even a +0.20% print on core would push us to 2.3% in Feb.
  • Core converging with median, as expected. Look at chart. What impression will it give FOMC?

core

  • core services +3% from +2.9% y/y; core goods to -0.1% from -0.4%. least-negative in two years.
  • I am not sure the core goods improvement can be sustained, yet, given lagged effects of dollar. Will eventually, though.
  • dealers holding all those 30y TIPS from y’day auction feel better today.
  • Cpi breakdown shortly. Taking unusually long to parse the data. Really need to optimize my database.
  • OK! Housing 2.10% from 2.07%. Primary rents 3.71% from 3.68% and OER 3.16% from 3.14%. So housing isn’t the big story.
  • Medical care: 3.0% from 2.58% y/y. As the mythbusters would say, “there’s yer problem.”
  • Medicinal drugs 2.21% from 1.66%; Professional svcs to 2.08% from 1.92%, Hospital 4.32% from 3.96%.
  • Medicinal drugs is what to watch going fwd. That’s in core goods & in 2015 fell from 5% to 1.7%
  • motor vehicles +0.51% from +0.14% y/y. Also in core goods.
  • Of interest – the fall in energy prices has reduced “food and energy” to 21% from 22.3%. So core is bigger.
  • Core ex-shelter 1.47% from 1.29%…highest since 3/2013. I think @TheStalwart showed a picture of that earlier.
  • This is less and less just a housing phenomenon.
  • OK, good news is that it looks like median CPI ought to be about 0.18%ish, so y/y will inch back up to 2.5% but not jump to 2.6%.
  • Also interesting is that the diffusion indices didn’t go wacky. So this number is not QUITE as bad as it seems at first blush.
  • Still the overall trend is clear: housing and now core ex-housing inflation are headed higher.
  • Still very hard for the Fed to ignore the core CPI chart. And PCE will be worse, because it is heavier in medical care.
  • I think March just went back on the table for the FOMC.

So, here are the main takeaways from this month’s report:

First, inflation in medical care is coming back, and that is starting to blunt the deflation in other core goods. At this point, the question is whether medical care inflation goes back to what it was prior to the Affordable Care Act, or goes higher. Although I am a staunch opponent of Obamacare, and I believe it will drive costs higher overall, I think anecdotally there are some signs that the free market is working to correct some of the most egregious failings of the Act. So it may not be quite as bad as it otherwise would be. Still, it appears the temporary lull in medical care inflation is past us.

Second, the fact that medical care was a big driver in this month’s CPI report means the core PCE report will likely be worse, since medical care carries a much larger weight in core PCE. This is why core PCE has been weaker than core CPI for some time, but that will correct.

Third, and a related point: the lagging measures of inflation are catching up with median CPI. The chart below, which is really just an expanded version of the chart above, doesn’t have the updated median CPI, which will be released later today, but that line won’t look much different. And it doesn’t have the updated core PCE, which will be released next week. But you can see what is happening to core CPI, which is the middle line.

cpis

Fourth, core goods prices are not likely to suddenly explode higher. The delayed impact of dollar strength, while it will not drive deflation broadly, will keep a lid on core goods inflation for a while longer. However, the core goods part of CPI is the less important and persistent part, and services (driven by housing, but no longer just by housing) continues to accelerate.

Fifth, the Federal Reserve had been inching away from the expectation that they would tighten in March, due to weak global growth and domestic equity markets. I think that possibility just landed back squarely on the table. If folks don’t realize it today, they will realize it when core PCE “surprises” higher next week.

And all of this means that higher inflation remains in our future. The notion that deflation is some kind of existential threat makes as much sense as the notion that alien invasion represents an existential threat: possible, but not something that ought to keep us awake at night worrying. Inflation expectations do not drive inflation – it is the other way around. Inflation is headed higher, whether people – and the FOMC – expect it, or not.

CPI, Your Way

January 21, 2016 2 comments

For those of you on the East coast, looking for something fun to do with your weekend between shoveling turns, I thought this might be a good time to introduce our “personal CPI calculator.”

Sounds exciting, right?

It is an old idea: one of the reasons that people don’t like the Consumer Price Index is that no one is an “average” consumer. Everyone consumes more or less than the “typical” amounts; moreover, everyone notices or cares more about some costs than they do for others. It turns out that for most people, the CPI is a decent description of their consumption, at least close enough to use the CPI as a reference…but that answer varies with the person.

Moreover, CPI turns out to be a very poor measure for a corporate entity, which cares much more about some costs than others. Caterpillar cares a lot about grain prices, energy prices, and most importantly tractor prices, but they don’t care much about education. (This is one reason that corporate entities don’t issue inflation-linked bonds…it isn’t really a hedge for them. Which is why I have tried for years to get inflation subindices quoted and traded, so that issuers could issue bonds linked to their particular exposures, and investors could construct the precise exposure they wanted. But I digress.)

The BLS makes available many different subindices, and the weights used to construct the index from these subindices. Last year, the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta published on their macroblog an article about what they call “myCPI.” They constructed a whole mess of individualized market baskets, and if you go to the blog post they will direct you to a place you can get one of these market baskets emailed to you automatically every month. Which is pretty good, and starting to be what I think we need.

But what I wanted was something like this, which has been available from the Federal Statistical Office of Germany for years. I want to chart my own CPI, and be able to see how varying the weights of different consumption would result in different comparative inflation rates. The German FSO was very helpful and even offered their code, but in the end we re-created it ourselves but tried to preserve some of the look-and-feel of the German site (which is itself similar to the French site, and there are others, but not for US inflation).

Here is the link to Enduring’s “Personal CPI Calculator.” I think it is fairly self-explanatory and you will find it addicting to play around with the sliders and see how different weights would affect the effective price inflation you experience. You can also look at particular subindices, through the “products” button. Some of these are directly BLS series (but normalized to Jan 1999=100), and some are collections of subindices that I did to make the list manageable.

I think you’ll find it interesting. If you do, let me know!

Categories: CPI, New Products
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