Tags: Import | Export Prices | Weekly Jobless Claims | Economy

Declines in Imported Goods Prices Should Keep Inflation at Bay

Image: Declines in Imported Goods Prices Should Keep Inflation at Bay
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By    |   Thursday, 10 Dec 2015 01:27 PM

  • INDICATOR: November Import and Export Prices and Weekly Jobless Claims
  • KEY DATA: Imports: -0.4%; Fuel: -2.5%; NonFuel: -0.2%; Exports: -0.6%; Farm: -1.1%/ Claims: Up 13,000
  • IN A NUTSHELL:  “The broad based declines in imported goods prices should keep inflation at bay for a while.”

WHAT IT MEANS: Inflation has been well contained and one of the big reasons is that import prices have cratered.  That trend continued in November.  Led by another drop in energy costs, the prices of imported products fell sharply.  But it wasn’t just oil. 

Non-energy prices were also down.  Indeed, you have to look long and hard to find any category where imported goods costs rose over the month.  About the only area was in building materials, especially wood. Cocoa and sugar costs rose, but hopefully that will not cause cookie and cake prices to increase.  We shall see.  Otherwise, there was basically nothing but red numbers in the report. 

Over the year, nonfuel prices are down 3.2%, which puts sizeable pressure on domestic firms to keep their prices in line.  On the export side, the results were similar as prices fell largely across the board.  The farm sector is hurting almost as much as the energy sector.  Export prices dropped again in November and are now down by nearly 13% over the year.  Ugh!

On the labor market front, unemployment claims jumped last week but that is not a concern.  The data bounce around and the 4-week moving average remains quite low.  We seem to have hit bottom on claims, but adjusting for the size of the labor force, we remain at record lows. 

The Fed looks ready to move next Wednesday.  The economy is strong enough that a small rise in rates really shouldn’t have any negative impact on growth. 

And the members will likely to continue to hike rates slowly for a couple of years.  But for rates to return to normal levels, inflation has to rise faster and the strong dollar is causing the pathway to 2% to be slow.  The latest down draft in oil should keep the headline inflation number well below target.  Still, as we move through the first part of next year, the large declines in energy will disappear, so look for inflation to accelerate.  Excluding energy, the rise should be much slower, helped by the strong dollar and low import costs. 

That said, labor remains the biggest part of most businesses costs and the unemployment claims number does nothing to change my thinking that labor shortages are becoming widespread enough that wages will have to rise a lot faster in 2016.  Unless firms can figure out how to improve productivity, which has been lagging, there may be no choice but to start increasing prices. 

The latest Blue Chip consensus forecast, of which I am a part, has the economy expanding again by 2.5% in 2016.  I think that is low because of my view on wages.  Higher salary increases should generate stronger consumption and the faster growth could provide domestic firms with some pricing power.  This is important since it is doubtful that once inflation hits 2% it will stay there. 

More than likely, we will see it go into the 2.5% to 3% range.  And if that is sustained for any length of time, as I suspect, the Fed will not dawdle.  But that is a year from now.

Let’s just start with one rate hike next Wednesday. 

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The broad based declines in imported goods prices should keep inflation at bay for a while.
Import, Export Prices, Weekly Jobless Claims, Economy
Thursday, 10 Dec 2015 01:27 PM
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