【英语财经】美国通胀上扬意味着什么? Is US inflation (finally) rising?

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2016-3-9 20:33

小艾摘要: A few months ago, this blog commented that a rise in inflation in the advanced economies early in 2016 was “almost certain”. Thank goodness for the word “almost”. Since then, oil prices have plumb ...
Is US inflation (finally) rising?
A few months ago, this blog commented that a rise in inflation in the advanced economies early in 2016 was “almost certain”. Thank goodness for the word “almost”. Since then, oil prices have plumbed new depths, and the markets have remained obsessed with fears about deflation.

The case for higher inflation in 2016 rested on the fact that the impact of energy on headline consumer price inflation would change direction when oil prices stabilised. This “inevitable” arithmetic effect has been delayed by the slump in oil prices in January, but it should manifest itself in the near future.

The key question, though, is whether this automatic rise in headline inflation presages a more important turning point for underlying inflation in the advanced economies – a turning point that has been wrongly predicted for several years now.

The answer is that there are some tentative signs of a slow rise in underlying inflation in the US, where price increases have been higher than expected in recent months. In contrast, inflation rates in the Eurozone and Japan have surprised on the low side. There, fears of “secular stagnation”, leading to deflation, still seem all too real.

Many economists argue that concerns about inflation in the US, reflected in the Federal Reserve’s decision to embark on monetary tightening in December, are still way over-blown. With views about the future path for inflation sharply polarised even within the Federal Open Market Committee, some policy makers have said that their decisions will be determined by actual consumer price data in the months ahead.

So far, the data seem to be justifying some of the concerns of the hawks. In January, the core PCE consumer price inflation rose to 1.7 per cent, not far below the official 2 per cent target for overall PCE. Since July of last year, both core CPI and core PCE inflation have accelerated by 0.4 percentage points, to 2.2% and 1.7%, respectively.

That represents only scant evidence of a turning point in the inflation process, but the underlying price data calculated by several of the regional banks in the Federal Reserve system show recent inflation rates running close to or above 2 per cent. The graph at right shows that several of these indicators dipped in late 2014, but since then they have rebounded towards the 2 per cent target. There has been little change in these indicators since the December FOMC meeting, so they are unlikely to prove decisive in either direction for the Fed.

However, Fulcrum’s inflation forecasting models (BVAR models that include price inflation, the exchange rate and oil prices) do suggest that the inflation process may have firmed up lately. The graphs below show that headline inflation will start to rise soon, and that core inflation will be hovering around 2 per cent by year end. These forecasts are a bit above the FOMC’s predictions that were published in December, so it is possible that the Fed’s inflation path could be slightly firmer when it appears with the March 15/16 FOMC meeting.

For comparison, it is worth noting that these US forecasts contrast sharply with the equivalent predictions for the Eurozone. There, the inflation process is still far from normalised and the period during which inflation will remain well below target will be much more prolonged than expected by the ECB in December. Inflation expectations could easily detach themselves further from the ECB’s “below but close to 2 per cent target” before this episode is over:

So the “great divergence trade” between the Fed and the ECB could be coming back to life after a period in which deflation fears have been dominant everywhere. But should investors be worried that rising US inflation trends are going to cause major headaches for markets?

The break even (expected) inflation rates priced into the bond market (TIPS) are now much lower than would be justified by mainstream CPI projections for the next couple of years. If break even inflation rises, that would make the Fed much more likely to tighten policy, so it is definitely a worry. But the chances of a more savage rise in US inflation, with the Fed getting seriously “behind the curve”, still seem fairly remote.

In order to predict inflation over the medium term, we need to add a measure of economic slack or unemployment to the Fulcrum models shown above. The resulting models show that the effect of unemployment on inflation, measured by the Phillips Curve, has dropped sharply in all the major advanced economies in the past two decades.

In the “Economic Report of the President” for 2016, Jason Furman’s Council of Economic Advisers at the White House presents evidence that clearly demonstrates the flattening in the US Phillips Curve since 1990. In the 2000s, whenever unemployment fell by 1 percentage point below its natural rate (estimated to be around 5 per cent) inflation subsequently increased by only about 0.25 per cent per annum, about half of the effect observed in earlier decades.

Similar work by the always-excellent Sven Jari Stehn and Jan Hatzius at Goldman Sachs published last week shows that Phillips Curve models to predict inflation in the major economies are still working well, once this drop in the responsiveness of inflation to unemployment is recognised. These models predict a rise in core US inflation to above 2 per cent by 2017, while inflation in the eurozone and Japan should remain well below target.

What does this mean for the Fed and the markets? The good news is that inflation is most unlikely to run completely out of control, almost whatever happens to the economy. Any rise in inflation will happen very slowly. But the Fed may be reinforced in its belief that the Phillips Curve is still operating, in which case it will not allow unemployment to drop rapidly below 5 per cent. On Friday, the latest US jobs report showed that the unemployment rate is already at 4.9 per cent.

Markets should be worried about this. Recently, with productivity growth close to zero, unemployment has been falling rapidly while real GDP growth has been hovering at only about 1 per cent. If the Fed believes that it needs to enforce a speed limit anywhere near that low on the American economy, equities would certainly be in serious trouble.

几个月前,本博评论称,发达经济体2016年初通胀上升“几乎是板上钉钉的事情”。多亏了“几乎”这个词。自那以后,油价暴跌至新的低点,而市场仍纠结于通缩担忧。

2016年通胀上升的理由基于如下事实,即当油价企稳的时候,能源对整体消费价格通胀指数(CPI)的影响将会改变方向。这种“不可避免的”算术效应因今年1月的油价暴跌而延迟,但它理应在近期表现出来。

然而,关键问题是,这种整体通胀的自动上升是否预示着发达经济体的基础通胀迎来更为重要的转折点——人们错误地预见这个转折点的到来已有数年之久。

答案在于,有初步迹象显示美国基础通胀缓慢上升——最近几个月美国价格上涨高于预期。相比之下,欧元区和日本的通胀率意外偏低。在这些地方,对“长期停滞”导致通缩的的担忧似乎仍然非常真实。

美联储去年12月开始收紧货币政策反映出对美国通胀的担忧,但许多经济学家辩称,这种担忧仍是严重夸大的。就连联邦公开市场委员会(FOMC)内部对通胀未来走势也存在严重分歧,一些政策制定者表示,今后几个月他们的决定将取决于实际消费价格数据。

迄今为止,数据似乎表明鹰派的一些担忧是合理的。今年1月,核心个人消费支出(PCE)通胀率上升1.7%,距官方制定的2%的整体PCE通胀率目标并不太远。自去年7月以来,核心CPI和核心PCE均上升0.4个百分点,分别达到2.2%和1.7%。

这算不上通胀过程出现转折点的确凿证据,但由美联储体系的数家地区银行估算的基础价格数据表明,最近的通胀率接近或高于2%。右图显示,这些指标有多个在2014年末下降,但自那以后它们向2%的目标反弹。自去年12月FOMC会议以来,这些指标基本没有变化,因此它们不太可能为美联储提供明确的方向指引。

然而,Fulcrum的通胀预测模型——包括价格通胀、汇率和油价在内的BVAR模型——确实似乎表明,最近通胀过程已经变得坚实。下图表明,整体通胀将很快开始上升,核心通胀到年底将在2%附近徘徊。这些预测略高于FOMC去年12月发布的预测,因此等到美联储3月15日和16日举行议息会议时,通胀路径可能稍微更坚实一些。

作为比较,值得指出的是,美国这些预测与欧元区的同类预测形成鲜明对比。在欧元区,通胀过程仍远未正常化,通胀依然远低于目标水平的时期将比欧洲央行(ECB)去年12月的预测要长得多。在这种情况结束前,通胀预测很容易进一步偏离欧洲央行的“低于但接近2%的目标”。

因此,在通缩担忧笼罩所有地方一段时期之后,美联储和欧洲央行之间的这种“大分化交易”可能重现生机。但投资者应该担心美国通胀上升趋势会对市场造成巨大困扰吗?

通胀保值债券(TIPS)市场体现出的(预期)盈亏平衡通胀率,现在远低于主流CPI指标预测的未来两年的合理水平。如果盈亏平衡通胀率上升,那将让美联储更有可能收紧政策,因此它肯定令人担忧。但美国通胀更加迅猛上升,而美联储严重落后于曲线的可能性似乎仍然微乎其微。

为了预测中期通胀,我们需要将经济不景气或失业因素加到上述Fulcrum模型上。由此得出的模型显示,在过去20年里,失业率对通胀的影响(由菲利普斯曲线衡量)在所有主要发达经济体都大幅下降。

由杰森?福尔曼(Jason Furman)挂帅的白宫经济顾问委员会在其编写的《2016年美国总统经济报告》中提出的证据明显表明,自1990年以来美国菲利普斯曲线呈现扁平化。在本世纪头十年,每当失业率比正常水平(约为5%左右)低1个百分点,之后年度通胀只会上升约0.25%,只有之前几十年观察到的影响的一半左右。

高盛(Goldman Sachs)一贯优秀的斯文?扎里?斯滕(Sven Jari Stehn)和简?哈祖斯(Jan Hatzius)最近发表的类似研究显示,在考虑到这种通胀对失业的响应度下降之后,用菲利普斯曲线模型预测主要经济体通胀就仍然有效。这些模型的预测显示,到2017年美国核心通胀将升至2%以上,同时欧元区和日本的通胀依然远低于目标水平。

这对美联储和市场意味着什么?好消息是,无论经济发生什么情况,通胀完全失控的可能性极小。通胀上升将非常缓慢。但美联储可能强化其对于菲利普斯曲线仍然有效的信念,在这种情况下,它将不会允许失业率在5%下方快速下降。最新的美国就业报告显示,失业率已经降至4.9%。

市场应该担忧这一点。最近,在生产率增长接近于零的情况下,失业率快速下降,同时实际GDP增长率徘徊在1%左右。如果美联储认为,它有必要在美国经济接近这种低点时施加速度限制,股市肯定会陷入巨大麻烦。

译者/邹策

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