The Good News On Inflation Seems Likely to End

By: Michael Ashton | Mon, Oct 15, 2012
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In case you haven't yet heard, congratulations are due to the EU - the recipient of this year's Nobel Peace Prize. Hey, don't laugh; they need the money. And don't click over to the news, where you may find pictures of riots in various places as the peace and prosperity (which, as we now know, was purchased on credit that can never be repaid) is taken away. That's an inconvenient truth...which, ironically, won the price in 2007. I think I see a pattern.

Back in the real world, American-style capitalism (such as it is) showed some temporary vigor today with Retail Sales announced stronger than expected (+1.1% ex-autos, with a +0.2% revision, versus +0.7% expected). That's not a huge beat, but the three-month change of 3.04% is the highest rate since late 2005. To be fair, some of that is a payback from a weak Q2, and the year-on-year number is still well below the pace of 2011 and parts of 2010. Optimists, however, will see a glimmer of hope in this number, even if kick-starting the economy through the channel of retail sales isn't exactly the "high-quality" growth we would like to see.

Speaking of high-quality growth, the bad news today was that the Empire Manufacturing figure was weaker-than-expected, bouncing only feebly from last month's figure (which was itself the weakest since early 2009).

The equity market responded to the data (or, more likely, to the notion that last week's mild selloff makes stocks "cheap") with a healthy +0.8% rally albeit on weak volume. Commodities were smashed for the second day in a row, somewhat inexplicably since the dollar didn't strengthen and there wasn't a lot of economic news out today.

Indeed, Monday was pre-climactic, as Mondays often are but this week in particular. For tomorrow is the monthly CPI report.

Last month, recall, core inflation printed +0.052%, a very weak surprise that pulled the year-on-year figure to 1.9%. It was especially surprising since Housing, the heaviest-weighted index, accelerated. The number was dragged down by Apparel, and the quirky drags from August did not all get reversed.

The consensus Street estimate for September CPI is +0.5% headline, +0.2% core. The consensus for the year/year changes is +1.9% for the headline, and an uptick to +2.0%.

An uptick on core is all but assured, because last September's change in core was only +0.08%. The year-on-year number will print +2.0% if the month-on-month change is only +0.11% tomorrow. In fact, if the monthly figure for core is +0.21% (the monthly changes for March through June of this year averaged +0.22%), year-on-year core inflation will spring all the way back up to +2.1%. That would, incidentally, really help the Treasury sell the $7bln in 30-year TIPS they have to sell this week.

There is some reason to expect these upticks. As I've mentioned, the weak inflation data from a year ago is one reason, but even the nature of the last few months' changes suggest that we are not likely to be in the midst of a broad slowdown in inflation. Median inflation is as high above core inflation as it has been for several years. Housing appears to be accelerating, not decelerating. And, needless to say, global central banks continue to ease aggressively. M2 has begun to re-accelerate and is back to +7% y/y (+8.2% annualized over the last 13 weeks, which is the highest rate since January).

If core comes in weak again tomorrow, it will create a difficult analytical dilemma. A string of unusually weak numbers at the same point of the year in consecutive years could point to faulty seasonal adjustment. Since other economic data have been having difficulty with seasonal adjustment, we would have to consider that possibility. But the more likely interpretation would be that something about the underlying dynamic of inflation has changed, and price increases are decelerating again. I don't think this is going to happen, but if it does I will have to address that possibility.

 


 

Michael Ashton

Author: Michael Ashton

Michael Ashton, CFA
E-Piphany

Michael Ashton

Michael Ashton is Managing Principal at Enduring Investments LLC, a specialty consulting and investment management boutique that offers focused inflation-market expertise. He may be contacted through that site. He is on Twitter at @inflation_guy

Prior to founding Enduring Investments, Mr. Ashton worked as a trader, strategist, and salesman during a 20-year Wall Street career that included tours of duty at Deutsche Bank, Bankers Trust, Barclays Capital, and J.P. Morgan.

Since 2003 he has played an integral role in developing the U.S. inflation derivatives markets and is widely viewed as a premier subject matter expert on inflation products and inflation trading. While at Barclays, he traded the first interbank U.S. CPI swaps. He was primarily responsible for the creation of the CPI Futures contract that the Chicago Mercantile Exchange listed in February 2004 and was the lead market maker for that contract. Mr. Ashton has written extensively about the use of inflation-indexed products for hedging real exposures, including papers and book chapters on "Inflation and Commodities," "The Real-Feel Inflation Rate," "Hedging Post-Retirement Medical Liabilities," and "Liability-Driven Investment For Individuals." He frequently speaks in front of professional and retail audiences, both large and small. He runs the Inflation-Indexed Investing Association.

For many years, Mr. Ashton has written frequent market commentary, sometimes for client distribution and more recently for wider public dissemination. Mr. Ashton received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics from Trinity University in 1990 and was awarded his CFA charter in 2001.

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