Inflation – should central banks hold off on tightening?

In New Zealand the recently published CPI figures published yesterday saw the yearly inflation rate climb to 6.9%. The main points to note are:

  • Tradeables inflation (imported) – makes up 40% of CPI – 8.5%
  • Non-tradeables (domestic) – makes up 60% of CPI – 6.0%
  • Housing and household utilities increased 8.6 %,
  • Transport increased 14 %,
  • Food prices increased 6.7 %,
  • Petrol prices 32.3%

The continued rise in domestic inflation means that the RBNZ will probably look at another 50 basis points rise later in the year.

Source: IMF

Ukraine War adds another supply shock – are higher interest rates the way to go?
With a second supply shock and inflation globally on the rise (see graphs) central banks have raised interest rates. However the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent increase in food and energy prices has asked questions of how central banks should approach monetary policy in what is unusual circumstances. Martin Sandbu in the FT suggest that they should rethink how they look at the operation of an economy. He made 3 main points:

  • Are central banks committed to aggressively increasing increasing rates every time there is a supply shock? This has a huge impact on households and businesses.
  • Do central banks know how their monetary policy works? Higher interest rates reduce aggregate demand and therefore easing the pressure on the supply side. However this is difficult to vindicate in that nominal spending has only just returned to pre-pandemic levels and still fell short in the EU and the UK.
  • These supply-shocks are ‘out of left field’. COVID caused greater spending on durable goods and non-durable goods by 25% and 10% respectively. Services remained depressed.

With the energy shortages arising from the Ukraine War there will be a movement away from production and consumption that use coal, oil and gas. Russian coal is already banned and it is likely that oil and gas will follow. Sandbu asks how monetary policy should approach a supply shock of this nature. If lower interest rates makes it easier to relocate resources then that is the best option for central banks. A tightening of monetary policy would make investments in new capacity both more expensive and less attractive as demand growth slows.

Today there are abnormal circumstances – COVID, Climate Crisis, Ukraine War, supply chain problems. These will mean huge structural shifts which can improve an economy’s productivity and lower inflationary expectations. If there are still higher interest rates productive potential would be reduced which would mean added pressure on inflation. Heading into a time of global supply chain problems monetary policy seems to be less effective.

Source: Central bankers should think twice before pressing the brake even harder – Martin Sandbu – FT 20th April 2022

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