Thursday, February 16, 2012

PPI inflation of 3.5% points to higher yields ahead



January Producer Price Inflation was lower than expected, but the core version was higher than expected. Nothing scary here, thank goodness, but on balance, inflation at the producer level is running at a rate around 3.5% per year. As the second chart shows, this is roughly the level of inflation that we have seen for the past 8 years, and it is about twice the rate that we enjoyed throughout most of the 80s and 90s. We likely are still in a somewhat higher, more volatile inflation environment than we saw during the Greenspan era. Given the weakness in the dollar and the strength of gold and commodity prices, and the Bernanke Fed's continued emphasis on being accommodative, I still believe that the risks to inflation in coming years are on the high side.


Treasury yields remain very low relative to the current level of PPI inflation. This creates incentives for firms to borrow and invest in raw materials, since the after-tax cost of borrowing has been much lower than the rate by which commodity prices have risen over time. It also makes it less likely that the Fed is going to be able to keep Treasury yields as low as they would like. With the economy showing clear signs of picking up, and inflation still alive and well, there is increasing pressure on Treasury yields to rise. I find it very difficult to believe that the Fed will be able to keep its "promise" to keep short-term rates close to zero for the next three years. When the Fed backs off of that promise, that should provide a further boost to confidence as yields rise to more normal levels.

15 comments:

Benjamin said...

I suppose this is a glass half full or empty story.

Dr Perry (Carpe Diem) notes that the PPI has been getting flatter and flatter, and that intermediate goods have been down or flat for six months.

The CPI has been flat or down three months straight. Unit labor costs have been falling.

The inflation threat is right up there with the threat that Tiny Tim will be the next heavyweight champion of the world.

www.greenworldbvi.com said...

If this is true, that would also mean that those who have invested in Treasuries at current rates will be suffering losses as rates rise. Going forward of course they can make alternative investments, but in theory they could suffer good sized losses on what they already own. If they purchased a 10 year at 2pc, and that rises to 3pc, that's a substantial hit it seems. Also, for CPI, it all depends on how you measure it. In the real world, where people actually eat and drive, CPI is still up there and will remain elevated.

Dr William J McKibbin said...

Inflation is imminent -- once the austerity hawks have taken the nation deeply into savage cuts in government spending (hopefully in both defense and entitlements), Main Street USA will be left deeply mired in depression (with all of the four horseman). That Main Street depression will eventually result in the demise of Federalism unless accomodations are made to make dollars available along Main Street. However, a California and New York default are still a year or more away, so don't count on any meaningful monetary accomodation in the near-term. Said another way, the austerity hawks have won the day, and rent and dividend earning equities are on sale for those with cash. Those who are acquiring high quality equities now will be handsomely rewarded once monetary expansion is instituted in a few years. Inflation is coming, but the US must first go through a course of Main Street depression, which is now evidenced by persistent declines in real wages, home values, and the employment to population ratio.

In summary, a few years of Main Street depression, equity deflation, and bargain-basement prices for dividend and rent-earning equities will be followed by aggressive future monetary expansion and explosive inflation that will take the DOW to 36,000 plus, and will drive the price of equities through the roof.

By the way, equity prices have increased dramatically in the past several months, so the real bargains have already passed...

Donny Baseball said...

Inflation is here. My wife and I save the receipts from our grocery shopping and staple items - milk, bread, meat, fruit - are up nearly double digits from last year. Gas prices, I don't need to tell you. Finally, one item that the bureaucrats purposefully keep out of the inflation stats - the cost of government: taxes, fees, tools, etc. Where I live tolls are going up not 10%, not 20%, not 30%, but 40%+. Fees are going up 10-20% and fares for our trains and subways are up 30%. Our utility bils, despite nat gas prices, are going up 10%. I'd be hard pressed to find a single spending category in our basic budget that is up only 3-4% - clothes maybe, but that is because it is markdown city at the retailers.

AusGarry said...

Any thoughts on how the price of treasuries incentivises the Chinese. I understand thay have $t worth presumably at low yields so will this affect the way they would llike to see the US economy (as relected in interest rates) go?

Donny Baseball said...

The Chinese do not care about what Treasuries do, holding them is the price they pay for having an export dependent economy - it is a trade policy decision. Short of a US default, I can't see them caring too much what happens. Naturally, they'll pretend otherwise to pursue their interests, but at the end of the day they are not true investors, they are captive to their policy.EDerch 1675;

L.A. said...

@ Donny - Those same increases in taxes, fees, tolls are already resulting in an exodus of many citizens of those high tax areas to lower tax areas.

I, myself, am from a liberal, high tax, wildly intrusive government state and have now spent most of my working career in the south, where I enjoy a vastly lower income tax and real estate tax bill, zero tolls, and cheap, cheap utility bills.

I have lived in two states in the south. Both areas I lived in have seen very explosive population growth, with a whole lot of people moving in from states like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, etc.

The migration will likely continue especially in the face of increasing taxes and more intrusive government, as is the trend in those states.

Bill said...

Is it "morning in America" again?

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The recent release of the PPI index and core PPI has sparked some interest in how it is related to stock market returns. Best PPI Advicee

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