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Thursday, September 08, 2011

Bernanke: Inflation not "ingrained in the economy"

by Calculated Risk on 9/08/2011 01:30:00 PM

Note: Bernanke did not discuss monetary policy options.

From Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke: The U.S. Economic Outlook. Excerpts on inflation:

The Outlook for Inflation
Let me turn now from the outlook for growth to the outlook for inflation. Prices of many commodities, notably oil, increased sharply earlier this year. Higher gasoline and food prices translated directly into increased inflation for consumers, and in some cases producers of other goods and services were able to pass through their higher costs to their customers as well. In addition, the global supply disruptions associated with the disaster in Japan put upward pressure on motor vehicle prices. As a result of these influences, inflation picked up significantly; over the first half of this year, the price index for personal consumption expenditures rose at an annual rate of about 3-1/2 percent, compared with an average of less than 1-1/2 percent over the preceding two years.

However, inflation is expected to moderate in the coming quarters as these transitory influences wane. In particular, the prices of oil and many other commodities have either leveled off or have come down from their highs. Meanwhile, the step-up in automobile production should reduce pressure on car prices. Importantly, we see little indication that the higher rate of inflation experienced so far this year has become ingrained in the economy. Longer-term inflation expectations have remained stable according to the indicators we monitor, such as the measure of households' longer-term expectations from the Thompson Reuters/University of Michigan survey, the 10-year inflation projections of professional forecasters, and the five-year-forward measure of inflation compensation derived from yields of inflation-protected Treasury securities. In addition to the stability of longer-term inflation expectations, the substantial amount of resource slack that exists in U.S. labor and product markets should continue to have a moderating influence on inflationary pressures. Notably, because of ongoing weakness in labor demand over the course of the recovery, nominal wage increases have been roughly offset by productivity gains, leaving the level of unit labor costs close to where it had stood at the onset of the recession. Given the large share of labor costs in the production costs of most firms, subdued unit labor costs should be an important restraining influence on inflation.
Bernanke is arguing inflation is not currently a problem - and that suggests the Fed will take action at the September meeting.