Will Inflation Make a Comeback?

Axel Webar, former President of Bundesbank in this Proj Synd article:

Economic forecasting models have long been notoriously inaccurate in predicting inflation, and COVID-19 has further complicated the challenge. Those who heed current consensus forecasts of persistently low price growth could be in for a rude awakening.

…..

Many argue that the COVID-19 crisis is deflationary, because pandemic-mitigation measures have affected aggregate demand more adversely than aggregate supply. In the first months of the crisis, this was largely the case: in April 2020, for example, oil prices fell toward, or even below, zero.

But a detailed look at supply and demand reveals a more nuanced picture. In particular, the pandemic has shifted demand from services to goods, some of which have become more expensive, owing to production and transport bottlenecks.

In current consumer-price calculations, rising goods prices are partly offset by falling prices for services such as air travel. But in reality, pandemic-related restrictions mean that consumption of many services has fallen sharply; significantly fewer people are flying, for example. Many people’s actual consumption baskets have thus become more expensive than the basket statistical authorities use to calculate inflation. So, true inflation rates are currently often higher than the official figures, as reports have confirmed.

…..

In recent months, commodity prices, international transport costs, stocks, and Bitcoin have all risen sharply, and the US dollar has depreciated significantly. These could be harbingers of rising consumer prices in the dollar area. With inflation rates highly correlated internationally, higher inflation in the dollar area would accelerate price growth worldwide.

Too many are underestimating the risk of a rise in inflation, and sanguine model-based forecasts do nothing to alleviate my fears. Monetary and fiscal policymakers, as well as savers and investors, should not allow themselves to be caught out. In 2014, former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan predicted that inflation would eventually have to rise, calling the Fed’s balance sheet “a pile of tinder.” The pandemic could well be the lightning strike that ignites it.

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