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October 17, 2015

Latest Posts from Economist's View

Posted: 14 Oct 2015 12:24 AM PDT
"Reuven Glick, group vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, stated his views on the current economy and the outlook as of October 8, 2015":
GDP growth rebounded to 3.9% in Q2
FRBSF: The Current Economy and the Outlook: Real GDP jumped to 3.9% in the second quarter of 2015, well above first-quarter growth of 0.6%. Personal consumption expenditures, business investment, and residential investment all made positive contributions to growth. In the six years since the Great Recession ended, real GDP growth has averaged 2.2% at an annual rate, near the economy's long-term trend of 2%.
We expect the U.S. economy to slow modestly in the third quarter because of reduced inventory buildups and weaker net exports. Propelled by solid momentum in consumption spending, moderate growth around the economy's long-term trend should resume heading into 2016. Ongoing risks to the growth outlook include possible spillovers from economic slowdowns in China and other foreign markets and a further strengthening of the U.S. dollar.
Employment growth continues
Employment growth has slowed somewhat but remains consistent with an improving labor market. Payroll employment increased by 142,000 in September, and the number of jobs added for July and August combined was revised down by 59,000. Significant job losses were recorded in recent months for the industries most exposed to overseas conditions, the energy sector and manufacturing. Still, average gains over the past six months have been around 200,000.
Unemployment near natural rate
The unemployment rate in August remained at 5.1%, which is very close to the 5.0% level that we judge to be the natural rate of unemployment. Other signs of progress include lower unemployment insurance claims and declines in broader measures of unemployment that include discouraged and marginally attached workers. However, some measures of labor market slack, such as the labor force participation rate and employment-to-population ratio, remain well below pre-recession levels. We expect that the ongoing pace of job creation, though slowing, will be sufficient to bring the economy temporarily below the natural rate in 2016.
Inflation remains low
Inflation, as measured by the change in the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index, was 0.3% in the 12 months through August. Very low overall inflation is largely attributable to lower prices of energy goods and services, which have fallen by over 16% in the past year. Excluding energy as well as the typically volatile food component of spending, core PCE rose 1.3% over the past 12 months. Inflation has remained below the Federal Open Market Committee's 2% target since mid-2012. Absent further declines in energy prices or a further strengthening of the U.S. dollar, we expect that stable inflation expectations and diminishing slack will push core and overall PCE inflation up gradually towards 2%.
Personal consumption expenditure components
The PCE is a composite of the price changes of different products and services. Food and energy account for roughly 11% of total consumer spending, while core goods (excluding food and energy) account for 23% of spending, and core services (excluding energy costs of housing) account for the remaining 66%.
Price inflation for goods and services is down
In recent years, core services inflation has tended to be positive, except during the recession and the early recovery. Core goods inflation has tended to be negative, with brief exceptions around 2009–10 because of tobacco tax hikes and 2011–12 because of rising textile and apparel costs. In recent months both core goods and services inflation have slowed, that is, services inflation has been less positive and goods inflation has been more negative.
Lower import prices reduce goods inflation
The decline in core goods inflation can be attributed to declining import costs associated with the appreciating value of the dollar as well as lower costs abroad. Because goods account for most international trade, movements in exchange rates and foreign prices tend to exert more pressure on goods prices than on service prices. Lower prices of imported consumption goods directly affect core goods inflation. They also affect goods prices indirectly through imports of raw materials, such as metals, plastic, and rubber, used in the U.S. production of goods for domestic consumers.
Health care pulling down services inflation
Core service inflation has been pulled down by more subdued increases in health-care service costs, which represent a quarter of core services spending and 19% of overall core spending. Health-care services inflation has been slowing for several years and fell off sharply in 2014, primarily from capping of increases in Medicare payments to physicians.
Inflation higher without certain sectors
The impact of import, energy, and health-care costs on core inflation can be gauged by "what-if" exercises that remove these sectors from the calculation. Excluding relatively import-intensive (for example, apparel and other nondurables) and energy-intensive (for example, transportation) sectors would raise core inflation modestly, by around 0.2%. Removing health-care services spending from the calculations would raise core inflation by an additional 0.3%.
The views expressed are those of the author, with input from the forecasting staff of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. They are not intended to represent the views of others within the Bank or within the Federal Reserve System. FedViews generally appears around the middle of the month.
Posted: 14 Oct 2015 12:06 AM PDT
Posted: 13 Oct 2015 02:37 PM PDT
This is a good example of the type of research that interests Angus Deaton (here, though, he is mostly describing the work of others, though his own work paved the way for this type of research):
Letter from America: It's a big country and how to measure it, RES Newsletter, October, 2014t: In this Letter from America, Angus describes recent efforts to record the significant differences in regional price levels across the USA. The task is technically complex and also raises political sensitivities.
One of the first things visitors from Europe confront when they come to America is just how enormous the place is, an enormity that is somehow enhanced by the fact that, after many hours in an airplane, you get off and discover that almost everything looks the same as where you got on, something that is rare in Europe. There may be mountains, palm trees, or a temperature difference that tells you that something has changed, but one thing that you will not find, at least in the official numbers and until very recently, is any difference in the price level. In consequence, the federal poverty line is the same everywhere, independent of the local cost of living, which does not prevent it from feeding into a range of federal and state welfare policies.
The need for regional price indices In 1995, a panel of the National Academy of Sciences thought hard about how poverty ought to be measured; I was fortunate enough to be a member of the group... One of the group's recommendations was that the poverty line should be adjusted for differences in price levels in different places, something that was not possible in 1995, because the statistical system did not produce such price indices. Contrast this with Eurostat...
There was then, as now, some reluctance, including from the Bureau of Labor Statistics — the agency that produces consumer price indices — to calculate geographical price indices. The then Commissioner was concerned about political pressure from legislators to alter price indices in their favor — to entitle their constituents to greater federal benefits — just as the census counts —which are used for drawing boundaries of congressional districts — have, in the past, been politically contested and were for many years mired in the courts. For whatever reason, no policy change or new data collection took place for many years. ... The BLS produces regional price indices, but those are all indexed to 100 in the base year, and so can only be used to compare rates of inflation, not price levels.
Change came, as it often does, through a combination of analysis, personality, and the passage of time, which allows people to become more senior and more influential. ... Census, under the leadership of David S Johnson, developed a Supplemental Poverty Measure based in large part on the recommendations of the Academy Report. Incorporated into this new measure — which is not the official poverty measure — are spatial price indices...
'Regional price parities' now available...
...but the official poverty measure remains The Supplemental Poverty Measure has not been adopted as the official poverty line, and indeed, its greater complexity would make it difficult to use for testing for individual eligibility. Yet this means that the official poverty measure, with all its flaws — including the failure to take local prices into account, and its blindness to taxes and official benefits — continues to be used, something that is unlikely to change in the current climate in Washington. Even so, the new measure is widely used in analysis including in official documents, particularly to assess the effects of the Great Recession of which it gave a much superior account than the official measure — not because of spatial price indices — but because the official measure ignored the substantial effects of the safety net on supplementing incomes of the poor. A bad measure can survive for a long time even when its deficiencies are well understood, though perhaps the recent crisis has helped make those deficiencies even more starkly and widely apparent, and may create some of the political momentum that will eventually lead to change.
Posted: 13 Oct 2015 10:03 AM PDT
Paul Krugman:
Global Dovishness: Tim Duy points us to a striking speech by Lael Brainard, who recently joined the Fed Board of Governors, which takes a notably more dovish line than we've been hearing from Yellen and Fischer. Basically, Brainard comes down on the ... precautionary principle side of the debate, arguing that given uncertainty about the path of the natural rate of interest, and great asymmetry in the consequences of moving too soon versus too late, rate hikes should be put on hold until you see the whites of inflation's eyes.
Why does she sound so different from Fischer and Yellen? Duy argues that it is in part a generational thing...
Maybe, but it's also worth noting the difference in perspective that comes from having your original intellectual home in international versus domestic macroeconomics. I would say that Brainard's experience is dominated not so much by the Great Moderation as by the Asian financial crisis and Japan's stagnation; internationally oriented macro types were aware earlier than most that Depression-type issues never went away. And if you read Brainard's argument carefully, she devotes a lot of it to the drag America may be facing from weakness abroad and the stronger dollar, which acts as de facto monetary tightening...
So does her speech matter? She is, as I indicated, pretty much saying what some of us on the outside have been saying, although she does it very clearly and well; but does it make a difference that someone on the inside is laying down a marker warning that raising rates could be a big mistake? I guess we'll see.
Posted: 13 Oct 2015 10:02 AM PDT
Simon Wren-Lewis:
One 'stimulus junkie' has already had a go at this FT piece by the chief economist of the German finance ministry ...
German officials need to be very careful before they claim that recent German macro performance justifies their anti-Keynesian views, because it might just prompt people to look at what has actually happened. Germany did undertake a stimulus package in 2009. But more importantly, in the years preceding that, it built up a huge competitive advantage by undercutting its Eurozone neighbors via low wage increases. This is little different in effect from beggar my neighbor devaluation. It is a demand stimulus, but (unlike fiscal stimulus) one that steals demand from other countries. This may or may not have been intended, but it should make German officials think twice before they laud their own performance to their Eurozone neighbors. If these neighbors start getting decent macro advice and some political courage, they might start replying that Germany's current prosperity is a result of theft. ...

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