The Signal and the Noise

U.S. Federal Reserve policymakers are dismissing as “noise” signs that inflation pressure is building, but perhaps they should be listening more closely.

June 25, 2014   |    By Scott Minerd

Global CIO Commentary by Scott Minerd

U.S. Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen’s press conference last week came just hours after Consumer Price Index data revealed inflation of 2.1 percent year over year. Nevertheless, she was exceptionally dovish and sanguine on inflation. Yellen contended that even though the U.S. economy is near the Fed’s objectives of full employment and price stability, recent data on inflation was “noise” and there continues to be considerable underutilization in the labor market. This was only the most recent demonstration of a willingness among Fed policymakers to highlight any number of economic data points to support accommodative monetary policy. It came even though labor conditions are improving toward a level associated with the non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment (NAIRU); a tipping point of around 5.5 percent unemployment which has historically corresponded with a period of Fed tightening.

I am increasingly of the view that the Fed and investors are complacent about inflation. While a broad-based secular increase in inflation is most likely a problem for the next decade, there are a number of technical and cyclical forces working to push consumer prices higher. One technical factor is the one-time 2 percent Medicare payment cut which went into effect in 2013 and temporarily depressed healthcare costs for Medicare recipients. The recent increase in healthcare costs results largely from the year-over-year effects of this one-time cost reduction expiring.

Another inflation factor at work is shelter. With rental vacancy rates hovering near 13-year lows and new home sales soaring by 18.6 percent to an annualized pace of 504,000 units in May, we can expect a continued rise in shelter costs for the rest of the year and possibly into early 2015. As a result of these technical issues and the cyclical factors associated with the economic expansion and employment growth gathering pace, we are likely to see inflationary pressures continuing to build. It is clear that we have now passed the days of low inflation growth.

We are in the late stages of a bull market and, as I have noted before, bull markets do not die of old age, but typically end as a result of a policy misstep. If Fed policymakers want to avoid such a mistake, they might start listening more closely to the “noise.”

U.S. Shelter Inflation Likely Heading Higher

May’s Consumer Price Index (CPI) data surprised to the upside, with transportation and medical costs adding to the 0.3 percent month-over-month gain in core CPI. However, the biggest contributor to increasing consumer prices continues to be shelter costs, which account for over 40 percent of core CPI (and 22 percent of core Personal Consumer Expenditures (PCE), the Federal Reserve’s favored gauge of inflation). Shelter inflation measured by CPI is already up 2.9 percent from a year ago, and due to falling vacancy rates and gains in home prices, shelter costs could accelerate to nearly 4 percent growth over the next year, which would push core CPI well above 2 percent.

ACTUAL CPI SHELTER YEAR-OVER-YEAR PERCENT CHANGE VS. MODEL SUGGESTED SHELTER INFLATION

ACTUAL CPI SHELTER YEAR-OVER-YEAR PERCENT CHANGE VS. MODEL SUGGESTED SHELTER INFLATION

Source: Haver, Guggenheim Investments. Data as of 06/25/2014. Note: Model inputs include the rental vacancy rate (six-quarter lead), home prices (seven-quarter lead), and growth in working age population (24-quarter lead).

Economic Data Releases

U.S. Home Sales Accelerate

European PMIs Slow, China Manufacturing Expands

 
Important Notices and Disclosures

This article is distributed for informational purposes only and should not be considered as investing advice or a recommendation of any particular security, strategy or investment product. This article contains opinions of the author but not necessarily those of Guggenheim Partners or its subsidiaries. The author’s opinions are subject to change without notice. Forward looking statements, estimates, and certain information contained herein are based upon proprietary and non-proprietary research and other sources. Information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but are not assured as to accuracy. No part of this article may be reproduced in any form, or referred to in any other publication, without express written permission of Guggenheim Partners, LLC. ©2014, Guggenheim Partners. Past performance is not indicative of future results. There is neither representation nor warranty as to the current accuracy of, nor liability for, decisions based on such information.


FEATURED PERSPECTIVES

Forecasting the Next Recession: Will Rate Cuts Be Enough? - Featured Perspectives
September 17, 2019

Forecasting the Next Recession: Will Rate Cuts Be Enough?

History shows that once our recession forecast model reaches current levels, aggressive policy can delay recession, but not avoid it.

Looking Past the Liquidity-Driven Rally - Featured Perspectives
August 22, 2019

Looking Past the Liquidity-Driven Rally

Credit spreads could get tighter in this liquidity-driven rally, but history has shown that the potential for widening from here is much greater.

The Fed's Sugar High - Featured Perspectives
July 29, 2019

The Fed's Sugar High

Rational immigration policy, not rate cuts, is the way to avoid recession.


VIDEO

Fixed-Income Outlook 

Third Quarter 2019 Fixed-Income Outlook

Portfolio Manager Adam Bloch and Matt Bush, a Director in the Macroeconomic and Investment Research Group, share insights from the third quarter 2019 Fixed-Income Outlook.

Solving the Core Fixed-Income Conundrum 

Solving the Core Fixed-Income Conundrum

Anne Walsh, Chief Investment Officer for Fixed Income, shares insights on the fixed-income market and explains the Guggenheim approach to solving the Core Conundrum.







© 2019 Guggenheim Partners, LLC. All rights reserved. Guggenheim, Guggenheim Partners and Innovative Solutions. Enduring Values. are registered trademarks of Guggenheim Capital, LLC.