Saturday, October 18, 2008

Deflation in 2009?

by Bill McBride on 10/18/2008 09:22:00 AM

Form the WSJ: Amid Pressing Problems, Threat of Deflation Looms

[T]he financial shock and a faltering economy can set the stage for a deflationary environment.

Federal Reserve officials view broad-based deflation as unlikely but possible. Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco President Janet Yellen said in a speech this week that the plunge in oil prices along with slackening demand for labor and goods should "push inflation down to, and possibly even below, rates that I consider consistent with price stability."
With the unemployment rate rising rapidly and capital markets in turmoil, "pretty much everything points toward deflation," said Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics. "The only thing you can hope is that the prompt action of policy makers can maybe head this off first."
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, in a speech as a Fed governor in 2002, said deflation in the U.S. is "highly unlikely" but added, "I would be imprudent to rule out the possibility altogether." The reason, he said at the time, was the Fed "has sufficient policy instruments to ensure that any deflation that might occur would be both mild and brief."
Deflation concerns in 2002 and 2003 led Fed officials to consider alternative measures to stimulate the economy. Their initial option came from the Fed's 1940s playbook: buying Treasuries to force down long-term yields, leading consumers and businesses to spend instead of save. In normal circumstances, effectively pumping money into the economy would support growth and spur inflation over time. Today's credit crisis has pushed Treasury yields lower already as investors seek less-risky assets.
The debate returns. Some people are concerned about hyperinflation. Others about deflation. The article suggests policy makers think deflation is unlikely.