Popular Economics Weekly

All the talk that QE3 is about to end centers on when the Fed believes inflation will become a problem. Fed Chairman Bernanke doesn’t believe inflation will be a problem, as long as wages aren’t growing. And wages can’t even keep up with inflation at present, as he said in his latest congressional Q&A.

“There’s a distinction between prices being high and prices rising…(cost of living) isn’t going up, it’s high, it’s not going up. In other words, real wages are going down because even though inflation is very low wages have been growing slower than inflation.”

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Graph: Econoday

This is substantially below the Fed’s target inflation rate of 2 to 2.5 percent, which is the level that shows sustained economic growth, according to the Fed. The reason for the spike in monthly CPI was energy prices, and the summer driving season. By major components outside the core, energy spiked 3.4 percent, following a partial rebound of 0.4 percent in May.  Gasoline surged 6.3 after no change in May.  The food component rebounded 0.2 percent, following a dip of 0.1 percent in May.

The Conference Board’s Index of Leading Economic Indicators (LEI) also mirrors the ongoing weak economic growth. The weak portions were in stagnant stock prices and building permits, while the positive contributors were higher long term interest rates (which predicts future growth), the leading credit index (more debt), lower average weekly initial claims for unemployment insurance, higher average consumer expectations for business conditions and manufacturers’ new orders for consumer goods and materials.  The factory workweek was a zero contribution.

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Graph: Econoday

Right now, therefore, industrial production seems to be the main culprit, rather than the service sector, because of subdued exports. The Empire State and Philly Fed manufacturing surveys were slightly positive, but overall production has trended downward.

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Graph: Econoday

So we can say that inflation should not be a problem for some time. Real inflation could even be years away, given that overall household incomes have shrunk 10 percent since 2000.  That means the decline in wages and salaries is the real problem holding back sustainable domestic growth.  Then the question becomes how to gain back some of that wealth?

Harlan Green © 2013

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