Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Goldman on Inflation: Pass-Through Disinflation: Not Over Yet

by Bill McBride on 4/21/2015 09:25:00 AM

A few excerpts from a note by Goldman Sachs economist David Mericle:

How much should we make of the firmer [inflation] recent prints? In our view, not much. The new car and apparel categories are the largest core goods categories, and are also the most sensitive to import prices. Auto import prices have begun to fall over the last few months, and we expect a decline in consumer prices to follow. Apparel import prices, in contrast, only flattened recently and remain up roughly 1% over the past year. This is not so surprising: the dollar's recent appreciation has not been primarily against the currencies of countries from which the US imports clothing, such as China. But the roughly one-third decline in cotton prices since mid-2014 is likely to result in a larger decline in apparel prices, and we expect that the full impact has yet to be felt. Our equity analysts expect apparel prices to fall for the remainder of 2015, and the 12% drop in raw cotton prices in the March PPI suggests further declines could come soon. ...

What about services, which account for three-quarters of the core? Soft health care inflation has been a key contributor to lower core inflation. Slower growth of public payments for health care services and likely spillovers to private insurers suggest that health care inflation is unlikely to exceed core inflation going forward. While health care inflation should normalize from the current sub-1% rate eventually, soft wage growth in the health care industry suggests little immediate upward pressure. Shelter inflation has been among the firmest components of the core, and the low rental vacancy rate suggests this trend is likely to continue in the near term. But we see limited further upside: the National Multi Housing Council's Market Tightness Index is less elevated, and data from REIS indicate that new construction should raise the vacancy rate.

More broadly, we do not view the recent data as a sign that pass-through is now behind us. Pass-through is a two-stage process. Dollar appreciation should result first in lower import prices, and then in gradually lower consumer prices. Similarly, while commodity prices are reflected in consumer energy goods and services prices fairly quickly, core prices then respond to energy costs with a lag. ... [W]hile the first stage of oil price pass-through appears largely complete, import prices likely have further to fall. ...
Overall, we expect that further pass-through will cause year-on-year core PCE inflation to fall by another 0.1-0.2 percentage points by the September FOMC meeting (at which point the July data will be available).
Does pass-through disinflation matter for liftoff? ... It appears that Fed officials increasingly view pass-through disinflation as something to be waited out, rather than as something to be ignored.
This is an argument for the Fed raising rates in September (as opposed to June) or even later.