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Inflation benign in Australia with plenty of scope for fiscal expansion

A few weeks ago (April 8, 2015), I wrote a blog – Monetary policy is largely ineffective – which detailed why fiscal policy is a superior set of spending and taxation tools through which a national government can influence variations in activity in the real economy. In today’s blog I will consider two recent bits of evidence that reinforce that viewpoint. Today’s inflation data issued by the Australian Bureau of Statistics clearly indicates that there is plenty of scope for further interest rate cuts within the logic of the central bank’s inflation targetting strategy. But monetary policy is trapped in Australia at present between the need to expand the economy (for which it is largely ineffective) and the worry that further interest rates cuts will push housing prices up further. Second, economic activity is faltering and unemployment has risen because the Government refuses to take discretionary action to increase the fiscal deficit to support higher spending levels. They are firmly caught up in the neo-liberal obsession about the need for surpluses and where they are likely to make concessions is in tax cuts for high income earners – based on the so-called trickle down hypothesis. Some recent research from the US, however, demonstrates fairly categorically that tax changes at the top end of the income distribution have negligible effects on economic activity. This is in contradistinction to changes in disposable income at the bottom end. They are very powerful in terms of stimulating or undermining employment and output.

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Australian inflation trending down – lower oil prices and subdued economy

Despite missing out on the recession associated with the GFC, Australia is now following the rest of the world down the decelerating inflation route. Yesterday, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the Consumer Price Index, Australia – data for the December-quarter 2014 yesterday. The December-quarter inflation rate was 0.2 per cent which translated into an annual inflation rate of 1.7 per cent. Recall that the September-quarter inflation rate was 0.5 per cent and the annual rate was 2.3 per cent. The Reserve Bank of Australia’s preferred core inflation measures – the Weighted Median and Trimmed Mean – are now at the bottom end of their inflation targetting range (2 to 3 per cent) and are trending down. Various measures of inflationary expectations are also flat or falling, including the longer-term, market-based forecasts. This suggests that the RBA may consider that the major problem in the economy is declining growth and rising unemployment, especially in the context of China’s deliberate slowdown. The benign inflation outlook provides plenty of room for further fiscal stimulus.

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Japan demonstrates the real limits on government spending

Last week, Reuters put out a story (October 30, 2014) – Special Report: Tsunami evacuees caught in $30 billion Japan money trap (thanks Scott Mc for the link) – which provides an excellent demonstration of the true limits of government spending in a currency-issuing nation. The underlying principles should be understood by all as part of their personal mission to expel all neo-liberal myths from their thinking and to help them see the nature of issues more clearly. Unfortunately, the application we will talk about is sad and has tragic human and environmental consequences, but that doesn’t reduce the relevance of the example for conceptual thinking. In a nutshell, the central Japanese government has transferred some $US50 billion worth of yen to the local government to combat the destruction caused by the tsunami in March 2011. Thirty billion is unspent despite people still living in temporary housing and suffering dramatic psychological trauma as a result. Why is this happening? Doesn’t Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) tell us that a currency-issuing government can spend what it likes? Well, not exactly. What MMT tells us is that a currency-issuing government can purchase whatever is for sale in its own currency and that propensity is limited by the availability of real resources. Here is a classic demonstration of the limits of government nominal spending.

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Australia’s inflation rate falling on back of weak spending

The Australian Bureau of Statistics released the Consumer Price Index, Australia data for the September-quarter 2014 today. The quarterly inflation rate was 0.5 per cent (down from 0.6 per cent last quarter) and this translated into an annual rate of 2.3 per cent, down on the 3.0 per cent in the June-quarter 2014. The Reserve Bank of Australia’s preferred core inflation measures – the Weighted Median and Trimmed Mean – are still well within the inflation targetting range and are not trending up. Various measures of inflationary expectations are also flat, including the longer-term, market-based forecasts. This suggests that the RBA may consider that the major problem in the economy is declining growth and rising unemployment, especially in the context of China’s surprise slowdown announced yesterday, and may even cut rates before the year’s end. The evidence is suggesting that the economy is still very sluggish. The benign inflation outlook provides plenty of room for further fiscal stimulus.

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Inflation rises on back of health fund price hikes – generally benign

The Australian Bureau of Statistics released the Consumer Price Index, Australia data for the June-2014 quarter today. The quarterly inflation rate was 0.6 per cent and this translated into an annual rate of 3 per cent, up on 2.9 per cent in the March-quarter 2014. The Reserve Bank of Australia’s preferred core inflation measures – the Weighted Median and Trimmed Mean – are still well within the inflation targetting range and are not trending up. Various measures of inflationary expectations is also flat, including the longer-term, market-based forecasts. This suggests that the RBA will probably consider the inflation outlook to be benign and they will probably hold interest rates at their current low level. The evidence is suggesting that the economy is still very sluggish. The benign inflation outlook provides plenty of room for further fiscal stimulus.

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Australian inflation outlook – spikey but benign

The Australian Bureau of Statistics released the Consumer Price Index, Australia data for the September-2013 quarter today. The quarterly inflation rate was 1.2 per cent and this translated into an annual rate of 2.2 per cent, down on 2.4 per cent in the June-quarter 2013. The Reserve Bank of Australia’s preferred core inflation measures – the Weighted Median and Trimmed Mean – are now well within the inflation targetting range and are probably trending down. The RBA measure of inflationary expectations is also falling. This suggests that the RBA will probably consider the inflation outlook to be benign or “too low” and if the labour market continues to deteriorate (data for October out early November) then they will probably cut interest rates once before the holiday period. The evidence is suggesting that the economy is slowing under the weight of the previous federal government’s obsessive pursuit of a budget surplus and subdued private spending (particularly non-mining investment). The benign inflation outlook provides plenty of room for further fiscal stimulus.

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Australian inflation outlook – plenty of scope for a needed fiscal boost

The Australian Bureau of Statistics released the Consumer Price Index, Australia data for the June-2013 quarter today. The quarterly inflation rate was 0.4 per cent and this translated into an annual rate of 2.4 per cent, down on 2.5 per cent in the March-quarter 2013. However, if we acknowledge the inflation spike in the September-quarter 2012, and consider the annual trend, the annual inflation rate is more like 1.6 per cent, which puts it well below the lower-bound of the RBA’s inflation targetting range (2 to 3 per cent). The Reserve Bank of Australia’s preferred core inflation measures – the Weighted Median and Trimmed Mean – are now well within the inflation targetting range and are probably trending down. This suggests that the RBA will probably consider the inflation outlook to be benign or “too low” and will instead have to shift their focus to the failing labour market, which in the last month showed signs of considerable deterioration after a flat 18months.The evidence is suggesting that the economy is slowing under the weight of the federal government’s obsessive pursuit of a budget surplus. The benign inflation outlook provides plenty of room for further fiscal stimulus.

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Australia – inflation benign and plenty of room for fiscal stimulus

The Australian Bureau of Statistics released the Consumer Price Index, Australia data for the March 2013 quarter today and while the inflation rate rose a little, this was mainly due to the fact that the base March-quarter 2012 was unusually low, thus distorting the annualised figure. When we continue the most plausible recent trends the annual inflation rate is below 2 per cent and falling. The Reserve Bank of Australia’s preferred core inflation measures – the Weighted Median and Trimmed Mean – are now well within the inflation targetting range and are probably trending down. This suggests that the RBA will probably consider the inflation outlook to be benign or “too low” and will instead have to shift their focus to the failing labour market, which in the last month showed signs of considerable deterioration after a flat 12-15 months. The inflation trend clearly contradicts the commentators who have been predicting the opposite on the basis of the (modest) rise in the budget deficit over the last few years as the downturn hit Australia. Their standing in the predictions stakes continues to be dented by the data. The evidence is suggesting that the economy is slowing under the weight of the federal government’s obsessive pursuit of a budget surplus. The benign inflation outlook provides plenty of room for further fiscal stimulus.

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Buy a cake on the way to the airport – inflation continues to fall in Australia

The Australian Bureau of Statistics released the Consumer Price Index, Australia data for the June 2012 quarter today and the inflation rate continues to plummet in the face of a slowing economy. The trend over the second half of 2011 was for inflation to ease. But the plunge in the first six months of 2012 that today’s data reveals is suggesting a weakening economy notwithstanding the first-quarter national accounts data which showed above-trend growth. pointing to a very sick economy. The annual inflation rate is now estimated to be 1.2 per cent (down from 1.6 per cent in the 12 months to March 2012) with a downward trend. The Reserve Bank of Australia’s preferred inflation measures – the Weighted Median and Trimmed Mean – are now at or below its inflation targetting range. This suggests that they will soon have to consider inflation to be “too low” and as a result engage in significant monetary policy easing. The inflation trend clearly contradicts the commentators who have been predicting the opposite on the basis of the (modest) rise in the budget deficit over the last few years as the downturn hit Australia. Their standing in the predictions stakes continues to be dented by the data. The evidence is suggesting that the economy is slowing under the weight of the federal government obsession with achieving a budget surplus in the coming fiscal year.

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Australian inflation plummets as the fiscal vandals undermine the economy

The Australian Bureau of Statistics released the Consumer Price Index, Australia data for the March 2012 quarter today and the inflation rate has plummetted in the face of a slowing economy. The trend over the second half of 2011 was for inflation to ease. But the plunge in the first three months of 2012 that today’s data reveals is pointing to a very sick economy. The annual inflation rate is now estimated to be 1.6 per cent with a downward trend. As I noted last September if the trend that was apparent then continued, then the annualised rate would fall below the Reserve Bank of Australia’s (RBA) lower inflation targetting bound. That has now happened in today’s data, which means that the RBA has to consider inflation to be “too low” now and significant monetary policy easing (via their own logic) should be forthcoming next Tuesday when the RBA Board meets again. You might ask whether the “bank economists” (the private sector mavens who always think inflation is about to accelerate out of control) predicted that the March quarter inflation rate would be 0.1 per cent. The answer is that they predicted that inflation for the March would be running at 7 times the actual rate (0.7 per cent), which raises the question yet again – why does the mainstream media rely on their input to guide the public on where the economy is heading. Today’s data signals that the Australian economy is not in robust shape and the major cause of this slowdown is the irresponsible fiscal policy obsession that the Government has with achieving a budget surplus in the coming fiscal year. It is an act of vandals.

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