Today we find ourselves reviewing the data on the rise in inflation in the UK in 2017. This has been caused by a couple of factors. The first is something of a world-wide trend where the price of crude oil stopped falling and being a disinflationary influence. The second has been the fall in the value of the UK Pound which accelerated following the vote for the UK to leave the European Union just over a year ago. If we look back a year then the current US $1.269 has replaced the US $1.411 back then. So the inflation which was supposedly dead ( if you recall the Deflation hype and paranoia..) came back on the menu.
The UK establishment responds
If you do not want the public to realise that inflation is rising but do not wish to introduce any policies to stop it then the only option available to you is to change the way the numbers are measured. Last Autumn the UK statistical establishment began quite a rush to increase the use of rents in a new headline UK inflation measure. There is of course a proper use for rents which is for those who do rent, however the extension was for those who own their house and do not actually rent it out. So yes imputed rents were required to fill the gap. Here is the official explanation.
However, it does not include the costs associated with owning a home, known as owner occupier housing costs. ONS decided that the best way to estimate these costs is a method known as ‘rental equivalence’. This estimates the cost of owning a home by calculating how much it would cost to rent an equivalent property. A new index based on CPI but including owner occupier housing costs – CPIH – was launched in 2013.
How has that gone?
This new index had some problems in 2014,
Also there is this.
We have still not yet addressed all of the necessary requirements for CPIH to become a national statistic.
So why the rush? Well last week’s numbers on rents from Homelet will have raised a wry smile for many.
UK rental price inflation fell for the first time in almost eight years in May, new data from HomeLet reveals. The average rent on a new tenancy commencing in May was £901, 0.3% lower than in the same month of 2016. New tenancies on rents in London were 3% lower than this time last year…..May’s decrease in average rental values marks a significant moment for the rented property sector. This is the first time since December 2009 the HomeLet Rental Index has reported a fall in rents on an annualised basis.
So rents were rushed in as part of the “most comprehensive measure” of UK inflation just in time for them to fall! Those who believe that rental inflation is related to wage growth will no doubt be thinking that wage growth and hence likely rental growth is lower these days. This is all rather different to house prices where lower mortgage rates can set off more price rises and inflation. I have met those responsible for this and pointed out that the word “comprehensive” is misleading as they do not actually measure the owner occupied housing market they simply impute from the rental one.
We see this.
The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) 12-month rate was 2.9% in May 2017, up from 2.7% in April………The Consumer Prices Index including owner occupiers’ housing costs (CPIH, not a National Statistic) 12-month inflation rate was 2.7% in May 2017, up from 2.6% in April.
So not only is the new measure again below the older one we see that the gap has now widened from 0.1% to 0.2%. As the difference must be the imputed rental section let us take a look.
Private rental prices paid by tenants in Great Britain rose by 1.8% in the 12 months to May 2017; this is unchanged from April 2017.
As you can see whilst the official data does not have the falls indicated by Homelet it is a drag on the overall inflation measure. Sir Humphrey Appleby would have a broad smile on his face right now. Oh and the reason why it is not showing falls is that the numbers are what might be called “smoothed”. The actual monthly numbers are quite erratic ( which of course would lead to doubts if people saw them) so in fact the numbers are over a period of time and then weighted. The ONS has been unwilling to reveal the length of the period used but it used to be around 18 months. This is of course another reason why this methodology is flawed and a bad idea because rents from a year ago should be in last years indices not this months.
I have argued for a long time ( this debate began in 2012) that house prices should be used as they are of course actually paid rather than being imputed. Also they behave very differently to rents as a pattern and are more timely which is important. So what are they doing?
Average house prices in the UK have increased by 5.6% in the year to April 2017 (up from 4.5% in the year to March 2017).
As you can see house price inflation is currently treble that of rental inflation. Can anybody think why the UK establishment wanted rents rather than house prices used in the consumer inflation measure?
Our past measure
The Retail Price Index used to be used in the UK.
The all items RPI annual rate is 3.7%, up from 3.5% last month.
So the pattern of higher inflation measures being retired continues. Although it does at least serve two roles. The first is for indexation of things people pay such as mobile phone bills as my contract rises by it as of course do student loans. The second is for the indexation of Bank of England pensions where it seems strange that the establishment attack on RPI somehow got forgotten
Fortunately we see that the main push is beginning to fade.
The annual rate of factory gate price inflation (output prices) remained at 3.6% for the third consecutive month and slowed on the month to 0.1%, from 0.4% in March and April……….The annual rate of inflation for materials and fuels (input prices) fell back to 11.6% in May, continuing its decline from 19.9% in January 2017 following the recent strength of sterling.
There is still momentum to push the annual rate of inflation higher which will not be helped if the post General Election dip in the value of the UK Pound persists. But the main push has now been seen. We should be grateful that the price of crude oil is around US $48 per barrel in Brent Crude terms.
The latest attempt by the UK establishment to “improve” the UK measurement of consumer inflation is being shown up for what it is, an attempt to manipulate the numbers lower. I guess things we receive will no longer be indexed to CPI they will be switched to CPIH! Also will the Bank of England switch its inflation target? If so it will complete a journey which has lowered the measure from 3.9% ( where what is called RPIX now is) to 2.7% or a 1.2% change when the target was only moved by 0.5%. In these times of lower wage rises, interest-rates and yields then 0.7% per annum matters quite a bit over time.
An answer to this would be to put the asset price which the Bank of England loves to inflate, house prices, in the inflation index. Let me leave you today with the price of a few basic goods if they had risen in line with them.
As I am off later to buy a chicken for dinner I am grateful it has not risen at such a rate.