Inflation is the way economists measure changes in the prices of goods and services. The United States has enjoyed relatively low inflation for a significant period of time. Last week, the consumer price index indicated inflation had moved lower in May.
Inflation is our focus because it is at the core of two very different opinions that currently are influencing markets and investors. A commentary on the Kitco Blog explained:
“One of the most important economic debates today is whether the economy will experience reflation or deflation (or low inflation) in the upcoming months. Has the recent reflation been only a temporary jump? Or has it marked the beginning of a new trend? Is the global economy accelerating or are we heading into the next recession?”
Another key factor is employment. Traditional economic theory holds when unemployment falls (i.e., when more people are employed) inflation will rise because demand for workers will push wages higher. That hasn’t happened yet in the United States even though unemployment has fallen significantly.
In fact, inflation remains stubbornly below the Federal Reserve’s 2 percent target, reported The Economist. Regardless, the Federal Reserve believes higher inflation is ahead, so it raised the Fed funds rate last week and indicated it was preparing to shrink its balance sheet if the economy continues to grow as expected.
There is a group that disagrees with the Fed. They believe inflation will remain low regardless of employment levels. Barron’s wrote:
“In the theoretical world, low unemployment threatens to unleash a torrent of inflation, which needs to be staved off by tighter monetary policies. Back in the real world, disruption, innovation, and competition relentlessly drive down prices while wage growth is hard to come by.”
The difference of opinion was apparent in stock and bond markets last week. In the bond market, yields on 10-year Treasuries moved lower after the Federal Reserve raised rates. In the U.S. stock market, the top-performing sectors were Industrials, which tend to do well when investors are optimistic about growth, and Utilities, which tend to do well when investors are worried about the future.
http://www.barrons.com/mdc/public/page/9_3063-economicCalendar.html (Click on U.S. & Intl Recaps, then “Central banks move markets”)