BBC Podcast – How do we stop high inflation?

This is a very good podcast on inflation and for anyone new to the subject it explains a lot concepts in very simple language. Concepts like fiscal policy, monetary policy, recession, stagflation etc. Click link below:

BBC – The Real Story – How do we stop high inflation?

The question that the economists try and answer is will the global economy go through a recession in order to get inflation down. Both central banks and governments cushioned the economic shock of the pandemic with low interest rates and spending respectively but this action has been blamed for increased inflation.

Larry Summers suggested that the US Fed had mistakenly seen the inflationary problem as transitory but there is a bit more stubbornness about price increases today. As he put it – some central banks need to go through their ‘full course of antibiotics’ (interest rate hikes) to control inflation as failure to do so means that inflation will return promptly and another course of antibiotics will need to be administered. The longer you leave it the more damaging the downturn/recession will be. He also states that every time the US economy has had an inflation rate greater than 4% and an unemployment rate below 4% the US economy has gone into a recession within two years. Those figures align with US inflation 8.5% and unemployment 3.6%.

Some great discussion and would be useful for a macro policy essay at CIE AS or A2 level. Good for revision of policies and their usefulness today.

Sign up to elearneconomics for multiple choice test questions (many with coloured diagrams and models) and the reasoned answers on Inflation. Immediate feedback and tracked results allow students to identify areas of strength and weakness vital for student-centred learning and understanding.

Global Economic Outlook

Below is a look at economic conditions in leading global economies. Unemployment is surprising low and with the rise in the cost of living (see inflation figures) this should put pressure on wages. The unemployment rate within the OECD area fell to 5.2% in February, the first time it has fallen below the pre-pandemic unemployment rate (which was recorded in February 2020). The unemployment rate within the OCED had peaked at 8.8% in April 2020.

Inflation, Unemployment and Interest Rates
Annual inflation within the OECD area rose to 8.8% in March 2022, its highest annual increase since 1988. Energy prices have risen by over a third during the past year, while food prices have risen by ten percent within the OECD area. Most central banks have already commenced a tightening programme with the on-going threat of inflation. The Australian Reserve Bank commenced tightening their cash rate in early May, increasing the cash rate by 25 basis points to 0.35%. It is expected that the RBNZ will increase the OCR by 50 basis points next week.

Outlook
If you look at conditions in the major economies you find the following:

  • China – limited growth potential with severe lockdowns
  • USA – higher interest rates could lead to a bust scenario
  • Euro Zone – cost of living crisis
  • Emerging markets – food crisis / famines.

With the indicators looking at recessionary conditions the best news for the global economy would be a withdrawal from Ukraine by Russian troops and an end to a zero-Covid strategy in China. These actions should reduce food and energy prices and therefore save government spending on raising benefits and subsidising food and energy. Economists are fairly optimistic that we will avoid a recession in 2022 as they still have the tools to stimulate if things get worse. However with no end in sight for the Ukraine conflict and interest rates on the rise a recession is on the cards.

Sign up to elearneconomics for multiple choice test questions (many with coloured diagrams and models) and the reasoned answers on Inflation and Unemployment. Immediate feedback and tracked results allow students to identify areas of strength and weakness vital for student-centred learning and understanding.

AS & A2 Economics Revision – Monetary Policy Mind Map

Going over monetary policy with my A2 class and have modified a mind map done by Susan Grant from a CIE Economics Revision Guide. Useful for those who are sitting the June AS and A2 Economics papers.

Sign up to elearneconomics for multiple choice test questions (many with coloured diagrams and models) and the reasoned answers on Monetary Policy. Immediate feedback and trackedresults allow students to identify areas of strength and weakness vital for student-centred learning and understanding.

Strong US$ bad news for global recovery

The recent tightening of monetary policy by US Fed Chair Jerome Powell to combat inflation has seen higher borrowing costs and financial-market volatility. The US$ has risen 7% against a series of major currencies since January this year – a two year high. It has always been a safe haven currency and with a rising Fed Rate and market rates even more capital could flow into the US increasing the demand for US dollars and therefore appreciating its value. See mindmap below for the theory behind a stronger currency.

Adapted from: CIE A Level Economics Revision by Susan Grant

A high value of a currency makes exports more expensive but does lead to cheaper imports especially of the inelastic nature. But to foreign economies it does drive up import prices further fueling inflation. For developing countries this is a concern as they are being forced to either allow their currencies to weaken or raise interest rates to try and stem the fall in value. Also developing economies are concerned with the risk of a ‘currency mismatch’ which happens when governments have borrowed in US dollars and lent it out in their local currency. However it is not just developing countries that have had currency issues. This last week saw the euro hit a new five-year low with the US Fed’s aggressive tightening of monetary policy. The real problem for some economies is that they are further down the business cycle than the US so in a weaker position.

“While domestic ‘overheating’ is mostly a US phenomenon, weaker exchange rates add to imported price pressures, keeping inflation significantly above central banks’ 2% targets. Monetary tightening might alleviate this problem, but at the cost of further domestic economic pain.” Dario Perkins – chief European economist at TS Lombard in London

Source: Bloomberg – Dollar’s Strength Pushes World Economy Deeper Into Slowdown. 15th May 2022

Sign up to elearneconomics for multiple choice test questions (many with coloured diagrams and models) and the reasoned answers on exchange rates and monetary policy. Immediate feedback and tracked
results allow students to identify areas of strength and weakness vital for student-centred learning and understanding.

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

Teaching Monetary Policy – Every Breath You Take – Every Change of Rate (Fed Funds Rate)

Here is a really funny video by the students of Columbia Business School (CBS) – you may have seen it before but I find it very useful when you start teaching monetary policy and interest rates.

Back in 2006 Alan Greenspan vacated the role of chairman of the US Federal Reserve and the two main candidates for the job were Ben Bernanke and Glenn Hubbard. Glen Hubbard was (and still is) the Dean at Columbia Business School and was no doubt disappointed about losing out to Ben Bernanke. His students obviously felt a certain amount of sympathy for him and used the song “Every Breath You Take” by The Police to voice their opinion as to who should have got the job. They have altered the lyrics and the lead singer plays Glenn Hubbard.

Some significant economic words in it are: – interest rates, stagflate, inflate, bps, jobs, growth etc.

Russia puts up interest rates to 20% as rouble tumbles 40%

In an effort to stop the rapid decline of the rouble to protect Russians’ savings the central bank have increased interest rates from 9.5% to 20%. Furthermore, citizens have been withdrawing money from ATM machines with the loss of confidence in the economy. In order to try and stem the 40% decline in its currency the Russian central bank has been buying roubles with its foreign currency reserves. In the foreign exchange market this, in theory, should have the following effect:

  • increases the demand for the rouble – Demand curve to the right – price up of rouble
  • increases the supply of foreign currency – Supply curve to the right – price down foreign currency.

Another worry for Russia is the downgrade of Russian debt to junk status by Standard & Poor’s the credit rating agency. Below is a mind map that shows the factors that are impacted by a falling exchange rate.

Adapted from: CIE A Level Economics Revision by Susan Grant

Sign up to elearneconomics for comprehensive key notes with coloured illustrations, flash cards, written answers and multiple-choice tests on exchange rates that provides for users with different learning styles working at their own pace (anywhere at any time).

New Zealand’s interest up 25 basis points but is it still stimulatory?

Today, not surprisingly, the RBNZ increased the official cash rate (OCR) by 25 basis points – 0.25% – to 1%. There was a suggestion in the RBNZ Monetary Statement that the increase could be 50 basis points but noted a preparedness to move in bigger steps than 25bp if required”. The RBNZ forecast endpoint for the OCR has been increased to 3.35%. and expect annual CPI inflation to peak at 6.6% in the March 2022 year and to fall back to the 1-3% inflation midpoint by mid 2024. The reduction in inflation should come from the easing of supply chain disruptions, lower commodity prices and tradable inflation. But the question that needs to be asked is, will this tightening be sufficient to dampen the following:

  • domestic pressure from the housing market,
  • wage pressure with 5.9% inflation and unemployment at a very low 3.2%,
  • prices of locally produced products (non-tradable inflation)

The Neutral Interest Rate

Central Banks have often used the term ‘the neutral rate’ which refers to a rate of interest that neither stimulates the economy nor restrains economic growth. This rate is often defined as the rate which is consistent with full employment, trend growth, and stable prices – an economy where neither expansionary nor contractionary measures need to be implemented.

The neutral interest rate is the rate of interest where desired savings equal desired investment, and can be thought of as the level of the OCR that is neither contractionary nor expansionary for the economy.

OCR > Neutral Rate = Contractionary and slowing down the economy
OCR < Neutral Rate = Expansionary and speeding up the economy

The RBNZ’s  estimate of the neutral OCR is between 0.9% and 3.1% – see below.  Like many other countries, the neutral cash rate in NZ is estimated to have been declining over many years.

OCR - Neutral Rate

Since the GFC neutral rates around the world have been falling which reflects the following:

  1.  Lower expectations about growth in the economy = reduces the return to investment
  2.  Relative to pre-GFC, a wider spread between the central bank rate and the interest rates faced by households and businesses (i.e. mortgages and business lending rates).
  3. An increase in global desired savings. For instance, demographic trends offshore have led to an increase in saving among the cohort of the population going through prime earning years (as they save for retirement). Likewise, increased income inequality is thought to increase desired savings, as top income earners typically have a lower marginal propensity to consume – MPC.
  4. Higher debt ratios in some countries (including NZ) make the economy more sensitive to interest rate increases than before.

Central Banks don’t have the independence to set the neutral rate as it is very much influenced by global forces. However they do have independence as to where they set their policy rate relative to the neutral rate.

Sign up to elearneconomics for multiple choice test questions (many with coloured diagrams and models) and the reasoned answers on Monetary Policy. Immediate feedback and tracked
results allow students to identify areas of strength and weakness vital for student-centred learning and understanding.

OCR – LSAP – FLP = New Zealand’s Monetary Policy Toolkit

Below is a useful flow diagram from the ANZ bank which adds Large Scale Asset Purchases (LSAP) and Funding for Lending Programme (FLP) to the Official Cash Rate (OCR – Base Rate)

LSAP – this is the buying of up $100 billion of government bonds – quantitative easing
FLP – this gives banks cheap lending based on the Official Cash Rate – could be about $28 billion based on take up
OCR – wholesale interest rate currently at 0.75%. Commercial banks borrow at 0.5% above OCR and can save at the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) at 1% below OCR.

With FLP and more LSAP this will mean lower lending rates and deposit rates. This should provide more stimulus in the economy and allay fears of future funding constraints making banks more confident about lending. Add to this a third stimulus – an OCR of 0.75%. Although there is currently a tightening policy the rate is probably still stimulatory. The flow chart shows the impact that these three stimulus policies have on a variety of variables including – exchange rates – inflation -unemployment – consumer spending – investment – GDP. Very useful for a class discussion on the monetary policy mechanism.

For more on Monetary Policy view the key notes (accompanied by fully coloured diagrams/models) on elearneconomics that will assist students to understand concepts and terms for external examinations, assignments or topic tests.

Housing affordability in New Zealand

Below is an informative graphic about housing affordability in New Zealand.

Over the last 20 years mortgages have become much more affordable even with the increase in house prices mainly due to lower interest rates. Remember even though house prices were lower 20 years ago the interest payments were much higher. Today we have seen much lower interest rates and higher house prices but it also should be noted that the banks have got much more flexible mortgage plans that allow buyers to spread payments over many years which means lower weekly payments.
*Mortgage affordability is measured by the weekly cost of servicing a two year fixed rate mortgage at a normal house price compared to the change in median income.

Deposit affordability is key
Note that it is the deposit which is much less affordable but the mortgage payments are much more affordable. It is twice as hard to get a deposit on a house on a median income than it was 20 years ago. Therefore those that can muster a deposit find the repayments very affordable. The increase in house prices has become a major problem to those trying to muster a deposit – higher house price = higher deposit. Therefore unless incomes rise with house prices deposit affordability becomes out of reach for many.

Source: WSBG Commerce Teachers’ Professional Development Day 2021

“New Zealand housing market: the importance of interest rates and urban land supply”, Dominick Stephens, Deputy Secretary, Chief Economic Advisor at The Treasury

Turkey cuts interest rates to control inflation?

Most economists are in agreement that when there is an increase in inflation the central bank increases the base interest rates in order to reduce spending and encouraging saving. This takes money out of the circular flow and should lead to less borrowing and therefore less pressure on prices.

The Turkish lira dropped by 15% last week with three cuts in interest rates since September. This comes as inflation has climbed to 20%. So why would you drop interest rates when you have rapidly increasing inflation? President Erdogan sacked the governor of the head of central bank Naci Agbal who had been hiking interest rates to dampen down inflation – he was the third governor to lose his job in the last two years. Erdogan believes that raising interest rates would raise inflation rather than reduce it and he proceeded to cut rates further which saw an even steeper decline in the lira. An argument for this policy could be that the cheaper exports can drive economic growth.

The collapse of the lira make exports competitive and imports more expensive and in September Turkey posted a current account surplus thanks in large to a recovery in tourist numbers. Turkey relies heavily on imports of raw materials and energy and with the exchange rate falling these have become a lot more expensive. Although Turkish exports should be cheaper, the heavy import component of finished exports makes those goods more expensive so this outweighs the benefits of having a cheaper lira – e.g. in assembling kitchen appliances the price of imports of the component parts make the overall price of the appliance more expensive. This just fuels more inflation. Supermarkets are limiting customers to one item as they know people will stockpile produce with the ever increasing inflation rate.

So with inflation around 20% and real interest rates -5% further cuts will lead to the lira falling further and inflation will get even worse. This will then get the local population to turn to other currencies – US$ Euro – in order to protect the value of their money. Below is a very video clip from Deutsche Welle (German World Service) outlining the problems that Turkey face.

New Zealand’s ‘Output Gap’

A good example of the output gap from the RBNZ Monetary Policy Statement last week – see graph above. There are strong capacity pressures which are the result of the unleashing of domestic demand and supply chain disruptions. Although the latter has increased it is presently unable to keep up with the the overall aggregate demand of the economy and subsequently this has driven inflation up to 4.9% above the 1 to 3% remit target band.

With unemployment at 3.4% and *underutilisation of 9.2%, annual employment growth of 4.3% (September 2021) cannot be maintained with this pressure on the labour market. There has been strong demand for more workers in some sectors, but it has been difficult for businesses to recruit extra staff. This has seen wages rise as firms compete for workers. However it is important to remember that on 29th October there were still 1,282,152 jobs being supported by a wage subsidy. A total of NZ$3,719.7 million had been paid via the COVID-19 Wage Subsidy August 2021. With the continued demand for labour, wage pressure and salary costs are expected to increase. Consequently a rising unemployment rate could be evident.

*underutilisation  – measures spare capacity in New Zealand’s labour market. People do not have a job, but are available to work and are actively seeking employment

Notes on the output gap

If there is no long-term trade-off, low inflation does not permanently choke growth. Moreover, by keeping inflation low and stable, a central bank, in effect, stabilises output and jobs. In the graph below the straight line represents the growth in output that the economy can sustain over the long run; the wavy line represents actual output. When the economy is producing below potential (ie, unemployment is above the NAIRU), at point A, inflation will fall until the “output gap” is eliminated. When output is above potential, at point B, inflation will rise for as long as demand is above capacity. If inflation is falling (point A), then a central bank will cut interest rates, helping to boost growth in output and jobs; when inflation is rising (point B), it will raise interest rates, dampening down growth. Thus if monetary policy focuses on keeping inflation low and stable, it will automatically help to stabilise employment and growth.

Gapology

Brazil – rapid fire with interest rate rises.

Brazil’s inflation rate is now at 10.25% from the previous year which is well above the target rate of 3.75% for 2021 – their target for 2022 is 3.5%. To counter this increase in prices the Central Bank of Brazil have been extremely aggressive with interest rate rises and since 17th March 2021 they have increased the benchmark Selic rate by 575 basis points which leaves interest rates currently at 7.75%.

This contractionary monetary policy is in response to higher prices and it is hoped that the increase in cost of borrowing and the higher return for saving will lead to a reduction in aggregate demand. However one has to be dubious about the level of savings in the economy and whether the return you get on interest in the bank outweighs the increase in the level of prices.

Political events look to destabilise the economy even more. There are concerns that an increase in government spending on welfare will fuel further inflation as President Bolsonaro seeks re-election. The so-called fiscal “ceiling” limits budget increases in line with inflation and is regarded as a pillar of the country’s economic credibility.

See table and graph below showing Selic rate rises.

Source: Central Bank of Brazil
Brazil’s Inflation Rate

A2 Economics – Macroeconomic policies essay

With the A2 essay paper next week here are a couple of mindmaps I produced using OmniGraffle (Apple software). I found it a useful starting point for students to discuss the effectiveness of each policy and the conflicts within macro objectives. This is a very common essay question in CIE Paper 4. My question would be:

What policies has the government in your country implemented since Covid-19 and how successful have they been in meeting macro economic objectives? (25)

A2 Revision: Keynes 45˚ line

With the Cambridge A2 exam coming up here is a revision note on Keynes 45˚ line. A popular multi-choice question and usually in one part of an essay. Make sure that you are aware of the following;

Common Errors:
1. C and S are NOT parallel
2. The income level at which Y=C is NOT the equilibrium level of Y which occurs where AMD crosses the 45˚ line.
To Remember:
1. OA is autonomous consumption.
2. Any consumption up to C=Y must be financed.
3. At OX1 all income is spent
4. At OB consumption = BQ and saving= PQ
5. Equilibrium level of Y shown in 2 ways
a) where AMD crosses 45˚ line
b) Planned S = Planned I – point D

Remember the following equilibriums:
2 sector – S=I
With Govt – S+T = I+G
With Govt and Trade – S+T+M = I+G+X

Stephanie Kelton – TED Talk

Recent TED talk by Stephanie Kelton on Modern Monetary Theory – MMT – in which she makes the case to stop looking at government spending as a path towards frightening piles of debt, but rather as a financial contribution to the things that matter — like health care, education, infrastructure and beyond. “We have the resources we need to begin repairing our broken systems,” Kelton says. “But we have to believe it’s possible.” The table below looks at the difference between mainstream monetary policy and modern monetary policy.

What determines the Neutral Rate of Interest?

Central Banks have often used the term ‘the neutral rate’ which refers to a rate of interest that neither stimulates the economy nor restrains economic growth. This rate is often defined as the rate which is consistent with full employment, trend growth, and stable prices – an economy where neither expansionary nor contractionary measures need to be implemented.
The neutral interest rate is the rate of interest where desired savings equal desired investment, and can be thought of as the level of the OCR that is neither contractionary nor expansionary for the economy.

OCR > Neutral Rate = Contractionary and slowing down the economy

OCR < Neutral Rate = Expansionary and speeding up the economy

This neutral rate dictates when the RBNZ end their tightening or loosening cycle. If the neutral rate is seen to be 3% it is the expectation that the RNBZ will increase the OCR to 3%. The graph below shows the difference between the estimated neutral rate and the OCR. Note that:

2008 – positive gap as RBNZ trying to bring inflation under control – contractionary level
2019 – the gap narrows and monetary policy becomes less stimulatory as the neutral of the OCR is likely lower.

What determines the neutral rate of interest in an economy?

Supply of loanable funds (people who save money) and Demand to borrow money – neutral rate generates a level of savings and borrowing that delivers the economy to maximum sustainable employment and inflation – 2% in NZ but with Policy Target Agreement of 1-3%.
Potential growth rate of an economy – if people expect more growth = higher incomes = higher borrowing = upward pressure on neutral rates. Economists tend to look at the production function and how much we can produce in the long-run therefore impacting aggregate supply. With higher potential growth rates investment spending is expected to increase and with it interest rates.
Population growth – strong population growth = larger labour force = larger national output which supports the neutral rate of interest.
Age and life expectancy – higher life expectancy increases the amount that people save during their working years. If consumers buy now rather than later = potentially either lower saving rates and/or higher borrowing = neutral rate of interest rises.
Superannuation / retirement age – burden of funding retirees fall on a smaller working age population. This could require higher taxes which leads to less spending putting downward pressure on interest rates.
Debt – with low mortgage rates, debt servicing have been at record lows. People have therefore borrowed a lot money and now have high level of indebtedness levels. Therefore higher mortgage rates mean that consumers disposable income will be reduced.
Government debt – COVID-19 has led to increased government spending and bigger budget deficits. New Zealand economy is probably as sensitive to higher interest rates and an increase in rates by the RBNZ will be very influential, limiting how far interest rates have to rise. And with households and the Government already loaded up on debt, future borrowing capacity is now reduced, which will put downwards pressure on interest rates too.
Overseas investment – as New Zealand comes a more attractive place to invest it increase the supply of loanable funds to New Zealanders. The investment will also strengthen the dollar which make exports less competitive but imports cheaper. Global capital flows mean that we can’t get too far out of sync with other advanced economies – as long as global neutral rates continue their relentless move south, so too will New Zealand’s.

Outlook
With the COVID-19 lockdown, increasing levels of debt amongst households and business and record low interest rates there is an expectation the RBNZ will increase the OCR. But with the OCR at such a low level already the RBNZ is running out ammunition if it wishes to stimulate the economy through conventional monetary policy.

Source: NZ Insight: Neutral interest rates – 20th August 2021 – ANZ Bank

Inflation – causes and examples from the global economy.

Here is an excellent video from CNBC which includes news clips from the 1970’s and beyond. Below are some of the main points:

  • 1960 – pint of milk in the UK 3p. Today 50p
  • Cost Push Inflation – today: supply-chain bottlenecks, shipping costs rising, labour shortages
  • Demand Pull Inflation – usually associated with an economy operating near full capacity
  • Milton Friedman – inflation a monetary phenomenon and the domain central banks.
  • With the expansion of money why has there been little inflation recently? Velocity of circulation is not evident – i.e. number transactions.
  • CPI – Headline Inflation but Core Inflation is more valuables it takes out volatile components of the CPI which have no reflection on the strength of their economy – e.g. oil. Gives you a better idea of the inflation trend.
  • A little bit of inflation is good – ‘Goldilocks’ not too hot but not too cold.
  • Hyperinflation – Brazil – 1980-1995. Weimar Republic – issues 100 Trillion D Mark note.
  • !970’s – Stagflation – wage price spiral – higher interest rates 20% – trade-off was the higher unemployment rate.
  • Central Banks – focus on inflation but also avoid a deflationary environment.

Inflation in Latin America


Latin American countries are now struggling to control inflation and have succumbed to raising interest rates despite having slow growth economies. Inflation in this part of the world has a bad track record with Argentina, Bolivia and more recently Venezuela experiencing hyperinflation. Furthermore, these countries have been hit hard by the pandemic and their economy’s need to develop more economic growth to create jobs and higher incomes. Rising interest rates is the last thing they require especially after government stimulus programmes are winding down and the revenue from commodity prices is starting slow.

Latin America is struggling with the combined health and economic impact of COVID-19 than any other region. Inflation rates are currently – Brazil – 9.7% Venezuela – 5,500% Mexico – 6.1% Chile – 4.8% Peru – 4.95% Columbia – 4.4%

Source: FT – The spectre of high inflation returns to haunt Latin America. 11th September 2021

Are we heading into Stagflation?

There is concern that the current mix of expansionary monetary (near 0% interest rates) and fiscal (lower taxes and increasing government spending with COVID-19) policies will excessively stimulate aggregate demand and lead to inflationary overheating. Add to this negative supply shocks and you have an increase in production costs. This combination could lead to a 1970’s stagflation – rising inflation and unemployment – see graph below. Since the days of stagflation in the US and UK in the 1970’s inflation has been the number one target for central bankers. The main cause of inflation during this period was the price of oil –

  • 1973 – 400%↑ – supply-side– Yom Kippur War oil embargo
  • 1979 – 200%↑ – supply-side – Iran Iraq War
Source: The Economist

US President Jimmy Carter’s attempts to follow Keynes’s formula and spend his way out of trouble were going nowhere and the newly appointed Paul Volcker (US Fed Governor in the 1970’s) saw inflation as the worst of all economic evils. Below is an extract of an interview from the PBS series “Commanding Heights”

“It came to be considered part of Keynesian doctrine that a little bit of inflation is a good thing. And of course what happens then, you get a little bit of inflation, then you need a little more, because it peps up the economy. People get used to it, and it loses its effectiveness. Like an antibiotic, you need a new one; you need a new one. Well, I certainly thought that inflation was a dragon that was eating at our innards, so the need was to slay that dragon.”

The policy of the time was Keynesian – inject more money into the system in order to get the economy moving again. This was also the case in the UK in the early 1970’s but Jim Callaghan’s (Labour PM in the UK ousted by Thatcher in 1979) speech in 1976 had reluctantly recognised that this policy had run its course and a monetarist doctrine was about to become prevalent. Below is an extract from the speech.

“We used to think that you could spend your way out of a recession and increase employment by cutting taxes and boosting government spending. I tell you in all candour that that option no longer exists, and in so far as it ever did exist, it only worked on each occasion since the war by injecting a bigger dose of inflation into the economy, followed by a higher level of unemployment. That is the history of the last twenty years”

With this paranoia about inflation central bankers began to implement a monetary policy targeting inflation in the medium term. In NZ the Reserve Bank Act 1989 established “price stability” as the main objective of the RBNZ. “Price stability” is defined in the PTA (Policy Target Agreement) as keeping inflation between 1 to 3% (originally 0-2%) – measured by the percentage change in CPI. Around the world central banks were adopting a more independent approach to policy implementation and with targeting inflation a new prevailing attitude seemed to be like an osmosis and suggesting that low prices = macro-economic stability as well. Also, raising interest rates is an unpopular political move and governments could now blame the central bank for this contractionary measure.

So are we now concerned that we will be entering another period of stagflation? Like the 1970’s we do have a supply-side issue (although not oil based) and expansionary demand side. The following are concerns:

Growth – Supply bottlenecks have led to growth slowdown in the US, China, Europe and the other major economies. Furthermore the Delta variant is increasing production costs as well as impacting the labour supply and ultimately reducing output growth. There is also the problem of moral hazard in that generous unemployment benefits are reducing the incentive to find work.

Demand Side – Excessive fiscal stimulus for an economy that already appears to be recovering faster than expected and it is assumed that the US Federal Reserve and other central banks will start to unwind their unconventional monetary policies. Combined with some fiscal drag next year (when deficits may be lower), this supposedly will reduce the risks of overheating and keep inflation at bay.

Supply Side – Again Delta is impacting many global supply chains, ports and logistical systems. Shortages of semi-conductors impacts the car industry as well as electronic goods thus increasing in inflation. Will the global supply side be positively influenced by better use of technological innovation in artificial intelligence and the return to normality on global supply distribution networks. Also will demand pressure eventuate especially when the threat of unemployment is ever present.

Although there are negative price shocks which could deter potential growth, expansionary fiscal and monetary policy could still increase the inflation rate. The resulting wage-price spiral could lead to astagflationary environment worse than the 1970s – when the debt-to-GDP ratios were lower than they are now. That is why the risk of a stagflationary debt crisis will continue to loom over the medium term.

Source: The Stagflation Threat Is Real – Nouriel Roubini – Project Syndicate 30th August 2021