The Bank of England seems determined to ignore the higher oil price

This morning has brought the policies of the Bank of England into focus as this from the BBC demonstrates.

Petrol prices rose by 6p a litre in May – the biggest monthly increase since the RAC began tracking prices 18 years ago.

Average petrol prices hit 129.4p a litre, while average diesel prices also rose by 6p to 132.3p a litre.

The RAC said a “punitive combination” of higher crude oil prices and a weaker pound was to blame for the increases.

It pointed out that oil prices broke through the $80-a-barrel mark twice in May – a three-and-a-half year high.

As well as the higher global market price of crude, the pound’s current weakness against the US dollar also makes petrol more expensive as oil is traded in dollars.

There is little or nothing that could have been done about the rising price of crude oil but there is something that could have been done about the “pound’s current weakness against the US dollar”. In fact it is worse than that if we look back to April 20th.

The governor of the Bank of England has said that an interest rate rise is “likely” this year, but any increases will be gradual.

This was quite an unreliable boyfriend style reversal on the previous forward guidance towards a Bank Rate rise in May that the Financial Times thought was something of a triumph. But the crucial point here is that the UK Pound £ was US $1.42 the day before Mark Carney spoke as opposed to US $1.33. Some of that is the result of what we call the King Dollar but Governor Carney gave things a shove. After all we used to move with the US Dollar much more than we have partly because our monetary policy was more aligned with its. Or to be precise only cuts in interest-rates seem likely to be aligned with the US under the stewardship of Governor Carney.

Just as a reminder UK inflation remains above target where it has been for a while.

The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) 12-month rate was 2.4% in April 2018, down from 2.5% in March 2018.

The welcome fall in inflation due to the rally in the UK Pound £ has been torpedoed by the unreliable boyfriend and a specific example of this is shown below.

Let us give the BBC some credit for releasing those although the analysis by its economics editor Kamal Ahmed ignores the role of the Bank of England.

Silvana Tenreyro

Silvana in case you are unaware is a member of the Monetary Policy Committee who gave a speech at the University of Surrey yesterday evening. As you can imagine at a time of rising inflation concerns she got straight to what she considers to be important.

Many critics have laid the blame on the tools that economists use – our models.So, in my speech today, I
will attempt to shed some light on how and why economists use models. Specifically, I will focus on how they
are useful to me as a practitioner on the MPC

Things do not start well because in my life whilst there has been a change from paper based maps to the era of Google Maps they have proved both useful and reliable unlike economic models.

An oft-used analogy is to think of models as maps

Perhaps Silvana gets regularly lost. She certainly seems lost at sea here.

Similarly, economic models have improved with greater
computing power, econometric techniques and data availability, but there is still significant uncertainty that
cannot be eliminated.

Let me add to this with an issue we have regularly looked at on here which is the Phillips Curve and associated “output gap” style analysis.

Many commentators have recently argued that the Phillips curve is no longer apparent in the data – the
observed correlation between inflation and slack is much weaker than it has been in the past. If the Phillips
curve truly has flattened or disappeared, then the current strength of the UK labour market may be less likely
to translate into a pick-up in domestic inflationary pressures. Given that the Phillips curve is one of the
building blocks of standard macroeconomic models, including those used by the MPC, a breakdown in the
relationship would also call for a reassessment.

Er no I have been arguing this since about 2010/11 as the evidence began that it was not working in the real world. However Silvana prefers the safe cosy world of her Ivory Tower.

My view is that these fears are largely misplaced. I expect that the narrowing in labour market slack we have
seen over the past year will lead to greater inflationary pressures, as in our standard models.

The fundamental problem is that the Bank of England has told us this for year after year now. One year they may even be right and no doubt there will be an attempt to redact the many years of errors and being wrong but we are now at a stage where the whole theory is flawed even if it now gets a year correct. As we stand with four months in a row of falling total pay in the UK the outlook for the Phillips Curve is yet again poor. Here is how Silvana tells us about this.

Although average weekly earnings (AWE) growth has now been strengthening since the middle of 2017,

Inflation

Fortunately on her way to the apparently important work of explaining to us of how up is the new down regarding economic models Silvana does refer to her views on inflation.

such as energy costs. And indeed, Chart 2 shows that the contribution of the purple bars to inflation
is correlated with the peaks and troughs of oil-price inflation over the past decade or so

It is probably because her mind is on other matters that she has given us a presumably unintentional rather devastating critique of the central bankers obsession with core inflation which of course ignores exactly that ( and food). Mind you it does not take her long to forget this.

Since the effects of oil-price swings are transitory, there is a good case for ‘looking through’ their impact on inflation.

Oh and those who recall my critique of the Bank of England models on the subject of the impact of the post EU leave vote will permit me a smile as I note this.

But in the past few quarters, we have seen some
building evidence that import prices have been rising slightly less than we had expected (only by around half
of the increase in foreign export prices – Chart 3). For me, this may be one reason why CPI inflation has
recently fallen back faster than we had expected.

I have no idea why they thought this and argued against it correctly as even they now admit. This is of course especially awkward in the middle of a speech designed to boost the economic models that have just been wrong yet again!

Comment

If we move to the policy prescription the outlook is not good for someone who has just dismissed the recent rise in the oil price as only likely to have a “transitory” effect. In fact as we move forwards we get the same vacuous waffle.

While I anticipate that a few rate rises will be needed, the timing of those rate rises is an open question

Okay but when?

With falling imported inflation offset by a gradual pick-up in domestic costs, I judge that conditional on the
outlook I have just described, a gradual tightening in monetary policy will be necessary over the next three
years to return inflation to target and keep demand growing broadly in line with supply.

So not anytime soon!

The flexibility is limited, however – waiting a few more
quarters increases the likelihood that inflation overshoots the target. In May, I felt that as in these scenarios, the costs of waiting a short period of time for more information were
small.

So more of the same although let me give Silvana a little credit as she was willing to point out that Forward Guidance is a farce.

Taken literally, the models suggest implausibly large economic effects from promises about interest rates many years in the future. There is ample empirical evidence that these strong assumptions do not hold in real-world data.

Also she does seem willing to accept that the world is a disaggregated place full of different impacts on different individuals.

Another unrealistic assumption in many macroeconomic models is that everyone is the same. Or more
accurately, that everyone can be characterised by a single, representative household or firm.

 

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