Popular Economics Weekly
Almost everyone, including Fed Chair Powell, is worried about the low inflation rate. It’s usually nearing 4 percent at this late stage of an economic recovery, not the current 2 percent if the US economy were running on all cylinders. Consumers should be spending more and businesses investing more to expand their markets—especially with the lowest unemployment rate in almost 50 years.
But the largest corporations don’t need to invest more. They have become fat and happy controlling their market share because they have been allowed to grow enough to buy up or stifle much of their competition. And with reduced competition they can spend most of their profits on stock buybacks and soaring CEO compensation packages.
Last Friday’s wholesale Producer Price Index indicated as much, with raw materials for finished goods and services barely budging. There is very little wholesale inflation on raw materials, in spite of the increased tariffs being levied on Chinese goods and elsewhere. This is a very strange because fewer lowered foreign trade should mean imported goods are more expensive, not cheaper.
The Producer Price Index for final demand advanced 0.1 percent in June, seasonally adjusted, reported the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Final demand prices moved up 0.1 percent in May and 0.2 percent in April. On an unadjusted basis, the final demand index rose 1.7 percent for the 12 months ended in June, the lowest rate of increase since advancing 1.7 percent in January 2017.
This is with the strong dollar which cheapens imports, which should increase demand for wholesale goods and services. Gas prices fell 5 percent, even with the Middle East dangers that would ordinarily boost oil prices.
The real problem that Alexandria Ocasio Ortiz for one, highlighted in her questioning of Fed Chair Jerome Powell is why there is almost no inflation, even with a full employment rate of 3.7 percent? She wanted interest rates lowered sooner to boost higher growth, with some 6-7 million workers either not looking for work, or working part time, but would prefer working fulltime and earn a living wage.
Powell said the U.S. is suffering from a bout of uncertainty caused by trade tensions and weak global growth, but he pledged to do whatever it takes to shore up the economy in what Wall Street took as a sign the central bank will cut interest rates soon.
The retail Consumer Price Index fared slightly better. Year-on-year the core is up 1 tenth to 2.1 percent. Housing and medical care which together make up about 1/2 the index — are also on the high side, said Econoday.
But outside the core, energy prices fell a sharp 2.3 percent on the month with the gasoline subcomponent down 3.6 percent. Energy prices, which are down 3.4 percent on the year, are not helping the Fed achieve its 2 percent inflation goal.
Trade wars are not really winnable anymore, as I’ve been saying; because we no longer live in a win-lose world where the strong are able to prey or even conquer the weak and vulnerable so easily. Our world has become too populous, and thanks to modern technologies too interlinked for it not to affect world trade upon which economic growth depends.
World trade is now in decline, which means US manufacturing and exports are in decline. So we hope US consumers keep spending, since they make up two-thirds of economic activity.
Harlan Green © 2019
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