By Charis Mountis, Head of Dealing at ForexTime Limited
We all understand what inflation means in practical terms: goods increase in price over time. That’s why the amount of money that was needed to buy a new house in the 1960s can barely buy a new car today. It would seem, perhaps, that if we could all agree to keep prices at a constant level we wouldn’t have to deal with the headaches and problems of rising prices. Yet, most central banks around the world try to maintain an inflation rate of two percent—not zero percent. Why does inflation matter and why do central banks set inflation targets?
Why Inflation Happens
Get a group of economists together in a room and they are certain to start debating the causes of inflation faster than you can say ‘rising prices’. Although economists may not agree on the specific reasons that drive each case of inflation around the globe, there are two general guidelines we can use to understand the main causes of inflation:
- Demand-Pull Inflation – when consumer demand outweighs supply, prices increase. Inflation occurs when demand increases faster than supply for a large number of consumer goods or services, not just one or two isolated cases.
- Cost-Push Inflation – when production costs rise, prices increase in order to maintain the level of profits of the producer (or service provider). Costs can grow as a result of an increase in the price of imports, arise in oil, water, or electricity prices, a tax rise, etc.
Given the multitude of factors that can affect demand and supply and the production chain of goods and services, maintaining prices steady at all times becomes impossible. No legislative body can accurately predict or control the appetites and outputs of the market. Prices therefore fluctuate, causing inflation when they rise and deflation when they fall.
The Purpose of Inflation Targets
Although consumers may see inflation as a bad thing, since it drives prices up, the truth is that a little inflation can be good for the economy. When the prices of goods and services increase, company revenues grow, and increased revenues lead to salary raises and the creation of more jobs. The psychological boost of increased salaries encourages consumers to spend money on the goods they want and keeps the economy flowing and growing.
When the prices of goods remain stable or even worse fall, things may not be as positive as they appear to consumers who may only see the short-term benefits of non-increased prices. When prices don’t change but the costs of production increase, the profits of the company providing the goods or services decrease. And when companies are faced with shrinking margins, they take measures to compensate for their losses by withholding salary raises or even cutting salaries or jobs when things get dire. This has a negative effect on the psychology of consumers who stop spending money as freely as before, fearing impending financial difficulties. What’s more, small increases in prices urge consumers to buy goods now, before prices go up later. Steady or falling prices, however, only encourage consumers to wait longer before making big purchases, which further restricts the flow of money in the market and hinders economic growth.
By the same token, too much inflation can also slow down economic growth. High inflation begins eroding the value of gains for corporations because the purchasing power of money decreases dramatically. Moreover, with prices rising uncontrollably and without consistency, it’s hard to know whether increased revenue comes from additional demand in the market or simply from higher prices. Consumers spend more freely and save a lot less, since the value of savings quickly diminishes.Aggregate demand, moreover, quickly outstrips supply in such cases,pushing prices even higher and the value of money even lower.
Experience and studies have taught central banks that in order to maintain their economies’ growth at a healthy rate, they need to maintain inflation at around two percent. When inflation falls below that level, or turns to deflation, problems of unemployment and economic stagnation arise. When inflation rises too much over that two percent level, currency devaluation and uncontrollable prices wreak havoc on the stability of the economy.
The economy is not a fixed and stable entity, but rather a dynamic process that needs to maintain a delicate balance in order to move forward. We could think of the economy as a bicycle in motion and inflation rates as the speed by which that bicycle is travelling. When the bicycle remains static, or if we try to backpedal, we’ll soon lose our balance and fall. Similarly, when the bicycle travels at an excessively high speed, it becomes hard to control and manoeuver through the ups and downs of the road ahead. But when the bicycle has a steady, controlled pace it’s easy to maintain balance and create forward momentum.
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Global stocks slide on inflation fears, dollar gains
By Herbert Lash
NEW YORK (Reuters) – The Nasdaq recovered as the bond rout retreated on Friday, but most other equity markets swooned around the world as data showing a strong rebound in U.S. consumer spending kept fears of rising inflation alive.
Shares of Amazon.com Inc, Microsoft Corp and Alphabet Inc edged up after bearing the brunt of this week’s downdraft to help the Nasdaq shake off its worst day in almost four months on Thursday.
The Nasdaq Composite advanced 0.56% while the S&P 500 slipped 0.48% after a late-session surge failed to hold. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 1.51%.
U.S. consumer spending rose by the most in seven months in January as low-income households got more pandemic relief money and new COVID-19 infections dropped, setting up the U.S. economy for faster growth ahead.
The benchmark 10-year Treasury note on Thursday shot to a one-year high of 1.614%, a move that rocked world markets. The note’s yield is up more than 50 basis points this year and is now close to the dividend return of S&P 500 stocks.
Yields on the 10-year note fell steadily throughout the session to trade 11.7 basis points lower at 1.3981%.
The amount of money swirling through markets and U.S. stocks at close to all-time highs has caused investor angst, said JJ Kinahan, chief market strategist at TD Ameritrade in Chicago.
“Many people are taking some profits and not necessarily reinvesting that money quite yet,” Kinahan said.
“The U.S. equity market is still the best game in terms of safety versus opportunity. But there is a shift going on.”
The scale of the recent Treasury sell-off prompted Australia’s central bank to launch a surprise bond-buying operation to try to stanch the bleeding.
MSCI’s benchmark for global equity markets slid 1.61% to 656.29 despite its large weighting to the U.S. tech heavyweights.
In Europe, the broad FTSEurofirst 300 index closed down 1.64% at 1,559.48. Technology stocks lost the most as they continued to retreat from 20-year highs.
The dollar rose against most major currencies as U.S. government bond yields held near one-year highs and riskier currencies such as the Aussie dollar weakened.
The dollar index rose 0.683%, with the euro down 0.9% to $1.2066. The Japanese yen weakened 0.31% versus the greenback at 106.55 per dollar.
Gold fell more than 2% to an eight-month low, as the stronger dollar and rising Treasury yields hammered bullion and helped it post its worst month since November 2016.
U.S. gold futures settled 2.6% lower at $1,728.80 an ounce.
Benchmark German government bond yields fell for the first time in three sessions but were still headed for their biggest monthly jump in three years after rising inflation expectations triggered a sell-off.
The 10-year German bund note fell 1.2 basis points to -0.271%.
European Central Bank executive board member Isabel Schnabel reiterated on Friday that changes in nominal interest rates had to be monitored closely.
Copper recoiled after touching successive multi-year peaks in six consecutive sessions, falling more than 3% as risk-off sentiment hit wider financial markets after a spike in bond yields.
Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange (LME) slumped to $9,112 a tonne.
MSCI’s emerging markets equity index slumped 3.36%, its biggest daily drop since markets plunged in March.
The surge in Treasury yields caused ructions in emerging markets, which feared the better returns on offer in the United States might attract funds away.
Currencies favored for leveraged carry trades all suffered, including the Brazil real and Turkish lira, which slid for a fifth straight day, erasing all the year’s gains.
The heaviest selling earlier was in Asia, with MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan sliding more than 3% to a one-month low, its steepest one-day percentage loss since the market rout in late March.
Oil fell. Brent crude futures settled down 75 cents at $66.13 a barrel. U.S. crude futures fell $2.03 to settle at $61.50 a barrel.
(Reporting by Herbert Lash in New York; Additional reporting by Tom Arnold in London, Wayne Cole and Swati Pandey in Sydney; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Matthew Lewis)
Dollar gains on higher yields, risky currencies weaken
By Karen Brettell
NEW YORK (Reuters) – The U.S. dollar gained on Friday as U.S. government bond yields held near one-year highs, while riskier currencies such as the Aussie dollar weakened.
Yields have surged as an acceleration in the pace of vaccinations globally and optimism over improving global growth bolster bets that inflation will rise. That has also led investors to price in earlier monetary tightening than the Federal Reserve and other central banks have signaled.
The dollar move is “a function of what’s happening on the yields side,” said Jeremy Stretch, head of G10 FX strategy at CIBC World Markets. The 10-year yield briefly climbed above the S&P 500 dividend yield on Thursday, he noted, indicating “uncertainty that is writ large.”
The dollar index rose 0.59% to 90.847, its highest level in a week.
It gained against the yen, touching 106.69 for the first time since September.
The benchmark 10-year Treasury yield surged above 1.6% on Thursday for the first time in a year after a weak seven-year note auction. It was last at 1.45%.
U.S. yield increases have accelerated this month as Fed officials refrain from expressing concern about the yield gains.
“The Fed has not really hinted that that’s making them uncomfortable, so the bond market’s going to push that,” said Edward Moya, senior market analyst at OANDA in New York. “That’s really dictating this move in the dollar.”
Riskier currencies retreated. The Aussie fell 1.99% to $0.7713, after topping $0.80 on Thursday for the first time since February of 2018.
Marshall Gittler, head of research at BDSwiss, said the Australian dollar was underperforming despite the market signaling higher growth, likely because the country’s central bank’s yield curve control policy would restrain its bond yields from moving much higher. That, in turn, could limit the attractiveness of the currency.
The greenback is likely to continue to benefit from safe- haven flows if risk appetite continues to worsen, and emerging market currencies may be among the biggest losers.
“There’s a big, big concern that this reflation risk is going to get out of hand and that’s going to really pummel the emerging market currencies, and I think you’re going to see that investors are going to need to reassess their dollar positions,” said Moya.
Data on Friday showed U.S. consumer spending increased by the most in seven months in January, while price pressures were muted.
U.S. jobs data for February released next Friday is the next major economic focus.
Investors are also waiting on details of the U.S. fiscal stimulus bill, which is expected to be passed in the coming weeks.
The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives on Friday was poised to push through President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus aid package, although it looked unlikely to be able to use the bill to raise the minimum wage nationwide.
The euro dipped 0.79% to $1.2078 after touching a seven-week high of $1.2244 on Thursday.
Bitcoin fell 0.32% to $46,946. Ethereum dropped 0.7% to $1,468.
(Additional reporting by Ritvik Carvalho in London; Editing by Dan Grebler and Andrea Ricci)
Oil drops on dollar strength and OPEC+ supply expectations
By Jessica Resnick-Ault
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Oil prices fell on Friday as the U.S. dollar rose while forecasts called for crude supply to rise in response to prices climbing above pre-pandemic levels.
Brent crude futures for April, which expire on Friday, fell 74 cents, or 1.1%, to $66.14 a barrel by 12:45 EDT (17:45 GMT). The more actively traded May contract slipped by $1.08 to $65.03.
U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures dropped $1.42, or 2.2%, to $62.11. The contract was still on track to be up 4.8% on the week.
The U.S. dollar rose as U.S. government bond yields held near one-year highs, making dollar-priced oil more expensive for holders of other currencies.
“It’s a dicey time – it doesn’t seem like a time to load up on a risk-asset position,” said Bob Yawger, director of Energy Futures at Mizuho in New York, wary of a potential output increase from OPEC and allies at next week’s meeting. Also, the U.S. stockpile report this week showed a surprise build in oil inventories.
Friday’s gains also reflect profit-taking after both Brent and WTI headed towards monthly gains of about 20% on supply disruptions in the United States and optimism over demand recovery on the back of COVID-19 vaccination programmes.
Investors are betting that next week’s meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies, a group known as OPEC+, will result in more supply returning to the market.
U.S. crude production fell in December, the latest month for which data is available, according to a monthly report from the Energy Information Administration.
Despite talk of tightening fundamentals, the demand side of the market is nowhere near warranting current oil price leves, they added.
U.S. crude prices also face pressure from slower refinery demand after several Gulf Coast facilities were shuttered during the winter storm last week.
Refining capacity of about 4 million barrels per day (bpd) remains shut and it could take until March 5 for all capacity to resume, though there is risk of delays, analysts at J.P. Morgan said in a note this week.
(Reporting by Shadia Nasralla, Additional reporting by Sonali Paul in Melbourne and Koustav Samanta in Singapore; Editing by David Goodman, Louise Heavens and David Gregorio)
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