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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Deflation and the Fed

by Calculated Risk on 7/11/2010 11:59:00 PM

From Paul Krugman: Trending Toward Deflation

Inflation has been falling, but how close are we to deflation? I found myself wondering that after observing John Makin’s combusting coiffure, his prediction that we might see deflation this year.
What I take from this is that deflation isn’t some distant possibility — it’s already here by some measures, not far off by others. And of course there isn’t some magic boundary effect when you cross zero; falling inflation is raising real interest rates and making debt problems worse as we speak.
And in the NY Times: The Feckless Fed
Back in 2002, a professor turned Federal Reserve official by the name of Ben Bernanke gave a widely quoted speech titled “Deflation: Making Sure ‘It’ Doesn’t Happen Here.” Like other economists, myself included, Mr. Bernanke was deeply disturbed by Japan’s stubborn, seemingly incurable deflation, which in turn was “associated with years of painfully slow growth, rising joblessness, and apparently intractable financial problems.” This sort of thing wasn’t supposed to happen to an advanced nation with sophisticated policy makers. Could something similar happen to the United States?
And an interesting point from Mike Bryan, vice president and senior economist at the Atlanta Fed: How close to deflation are we? Perhaps just a little closer than you thought

CPI will be released on Friday, and expectations are for another slight decline in the headline number. Persistent deflation (like in Japan) would be a serious problem. Perhaps if rents are increasing slightly, as recent reports suggests, the U.S. might avoid deflation without further Fed action (I'm not confident that rents have bottomed given the high vacancy and unemployment rate - especially if I'm correct about growth slowing in the 2nd half of 2010).

Note: Last week I asked "What might the Fed do?" and I excerpted from Bernanke's 2002 speech. If the trend towards deflation continues, I think the FOMC - based on Bernanke's speech - might set "explicit ceilings for yields on longer-maturity Treasury debt".