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Monday, April 11, 2011

Fed's Yellen: Inflation Transitory, will not "impede the economic recovery"

by Calculated Risk on 4/11/2011 12:15:00 PM

From Fed Vice Chair Janet Yellen: Commodity Prices, the Economic Outlook, and Monetary Policy. Yellen discusses the recent surge in commodity prices and the possible impact on underlying inflation. She doesn't think the increase in commodity prices will impede the economic recovery.

A few excerpts:

[T]he recent run-up in commodity prices is likely to weigh somewhat on consumer spending in coming months because it puts a painful squeeze on the pocketbooks of American households. In particular, higher oil prices lower American income overall because the United States is a major oil importer and hence much of the proceeds are transferred abroad. Monetary policy cannot directly alter this transfer of income abroad, which primarily reflects a change in relative prices driven by global demand and supply balances, not conditions in the United States. Thus, an increase in the price of crude oil acts like a tax on U.S. households, and like other taxes, tends to have a dampening effect on consumer spending.

The surge in commodity prices may also dampen business spending. Higher food and energy prices should boost investment in agriculture, drilling, and mining but are likely to weigh on investment spending by firms in other sectors. Assuming these firms are unable to fully pass through higher input costs into prices, they will experience some compression in their profit margins, at least in the short run, thereby causing a decline in the marginal return on investment in most forms of equipment and structures. Moreover, to the extent that higher oil prices are associated with greater uncertainty about the economic outlook, businesses may decide to put off key investment decisions until that uncertainty subsides. Finally, with higher oil prices weighing on household income, weaker consumer spending could discourage business capital spending to some degree.

Fortunately, considerable evidence suggests that the effect of energy price shocks on the real economy has decreased substantially over the past several decades. During the period before the creation of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), cheap oil encouraged households to purchase gas-guzzling cars while firms had incentives to use energy-intensive production techniques. Consequently, when oil prices quadrupled in 1973-74, that degree of energy dependence resulted in substantial adverse effects on real economic activity. Since then, however, energy efficiency in both production and consumption has improved markedly.

Consequently, while the recent run-up in commodity prices is likely to weigh somewhat on consumer and business spending in coming months, I do not anticipate that those developments will greatly impede the economic recovery as long as these trends do not continue much further.
And her conclusion:
In summary, the surge in commodity prices over the past year appears to be largely attributable to a combination of rising global demand and disruptions in global supply. These developments seem unlikely to have persistent effects on consumer inflation or to derail the economic recovery and hence do not, in my view, warrant any substantial shift in the stance of monetary policy.