Deflation is firmly taking root in USA. FED is still in denial.


Even though the signs of deflation are everywhere as expressed in contracting credit, money supply, and prices, the privately owned Federal Reserve’s executives continue to beat about the deflationary bush by referring to it as “disinflation” and talking about it in future tense. It has been happenning already for the past year and a half and it will continue as evidenced by record low long term Treasury yields this week. The below article provides a detailed discussion and solid evidence of deflation and how it works.

Bloomberg.  October 02, 2009.

Stiglitz Deflation Threat Pushes Fed to Stay at Zero.

Oct. 2 (Bloomberg) — The U.S. faces the possibility of deflation for the first time since the Eisenhower administration, a threat that may prompt the Federal Reserve to keep interest rates near zero through next year.

Executives at Kroger Co., the largest U.S. supermarket chain, blamed deflation for a 7 percent drop in earnings in the second quarter, while falling prices for food, gasoline, and electronics left August sales unchanged at Costco Wholesale Corp. A sustained price drop might set off a chain reaction in which lower profits force employers to pare wages and payrolls. That would erode consumer demand, exacerbating wage cuts and firings.

Such a spiral led to Japan’s “lost decade” of slow economic growth in the 1990s. A more vicious version in the U.S. helped create the Great Depression six decades earlier. Bond investors are forecasting retreating consumer prices, as shown by the yield they demand to hold a one-year bond versus a similar inflation-protected bond.

“Deflation is definitely a threat right now,” Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, 66, a professor at Columbia University in New York, said in a Sept. 22 interview. “The combination of the deflation threat and the sluggish recovery should keep the Fed on hold for quite a while.”

Consumer prices are experiencing deflation, with the consumer price index sliding for six straight months from year- earlier levels, the longest stretch of declines since a 12-month drop from September 1954 to August 1955, according to the Labor Department.

So far, the core consumer-price index, which excludes food and energy, is facing disinflation, a slowing in the pace of increase. The core index rose 1.4 percent in August from a year earlier, down from 2.5 percent in September 2008.

Fed Trio

Regional Federal Reserve Bank Presidents Janet Yellen, of San Francisco, James Bullard, of St. Louis, Richard Fisher, of Dallas, and Charles Evans, of Chicago, have expressed concern in past weeks about the possibility of declining prices.

“Disinflationary winds are blowing with gale-force effect,” Evans, 51, said in a Sept. 9 speech in New York.

While the economy contracted 2.7 percent during the 1953 recession, it shrank 3.8 percent in the current recession, the most since the 1930s. Economists at New York-based JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc., the second- and fifth- biggest U.S. banks by assets, say there’s so much deflationary excess labor and plant capacity in the economy that the Fed won’t raise interest rates until at least 2011.

Gross Pessimism

“The potential for a deflationary downdraft continues for several years” if economic growth doesn’t accelerate, Bill Gross, who runs the world’s biggest bond fund at Pacific Investment Management Co. in Newport Beach, California, said in a Sept. 29 interview with Bloomberg Radio.

At their most recent meeting on Sept. 23, Fed policy makers agreed to leave the benchmark interest rate in a range of zero to 0.25 percent, where it’s been since December 2008.

Only 69.6 percent of the country’s factories, utilities and mines were in use during August, close to the record low of 68.3 percent reached in June.

Former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan said the economic rebound won’t prevent a further slowing of the pace of price increases. “We are still, by any measure, in a disinflationary environment,” Greenspan, 83, said in a Sept. 30 Bloomberg Television interview in Washington.

At the same time, recent reports on manufacturing, housing, and consumer spending suggest that any investor concerns about the danger of deflation are overblown, said Dean Maki, chief U.S. economist at Barclays Capital Inc. in New York.

Growth Outlook

The median projection of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News is for first quarter growth of just 2.4 percent, compared with a decline of 6.4 percent in the first quarter of 2009. Maki sees a 5 percent expansion in the first quarter of 2010.

That would translate into higher prices.

“Inflation is driven more by the level of demand and pace of growth than by the size of the output gap,” said Stephen Stanley, chief economist at RBS Securities Inc. in Stamford, Connecticut. “As the economy returns to solid growth in 2010, we are quite confident that, in sharp contrast to the consensus Fed view, core inflation will be creeping higher.”

Fed officials are already planning for that, and publicly discussing an exit strategy once the economy does pick up. At that point, the Fed may have to move with “greater force” than some anticipate to keep inflation from accelerating too rapidly, Fed Governor Kevin Warsh, 39, said in a Sept. 25 speech in Chicago.

Fed Purchases

That day is far off for bond investors. Inflation fears, raised by the more than $1 trillion the Fed has pumped into the economy by lowering rates and buying Treasuries and mortgage- backed securities, are fading.

“There’s been a significant flattening on the long end of the curve,” reflecting concern about deflation, said Pacific Investment’s Gross, 65, who is buying longer-maturity Treasuries in response. The yield on the 10-year note, which was 3.95 percent on June 10, was 3.18 percent at the close of New York trading yesterday. The difference in yield between nominal and inflation-protected Treasury securities maturing in one year is negative 0.4 percent, suggesting investors expect deflation during the next 12 months. Over five years, that inflation premium is now 1.21 percent, down from 1.86 percent on June 10.

The Fed needs to “keep inflation expectations from slipping to undesirably low levels in order to prevent unwanted disinflation,” Vice Chairman Donald Kohn, 66, said Sept. 10 in Washington during a speech at the Brookings Institution.

Oil Role

Falling consumer prices are partly a reflection of a 52 percent decline in oil prices to about $70 a barrel yesterday from $145.45 a barrel on July 3, 2008.

The slowing in core prices is more of a concern, said Michael Feroli, an economist at JPMorgan. The core rate fell following three prior recessions in which unemployment rose above 7 percent. That “suggests that core inflation could well be below zero within two years,” Feroli said in an interview.

Core CPI fell 5.3 percent following the recession of 1973- 1975, 10.7 percent following the recession of 1981-1982 and 3 percent following the recession of 1990-1991.

Unemployment rose to 9.8 percent in September, a Labor Department report showed today, and it will likely climb to 10 percent in the fourth quarter, according to the Bloomberg survey of economists. The jobless rate was estimated to average 8.8 percent in 2011.

With unemployment elevated, companies may not need to raise pay to attract workers, even when the economy picks up.

‘Enormous Slack’

“My personal belief is that the more significant threat to price stability over the next several years stems from the disinflationary forces unleashed by the enormous slack in the economy,” Yellen, 63, said Sept. 14 in San Francisco.

Wages for U.S. workers fell for eight months in a row, dropping 5.6 percent from October 2008 to June 2009, according to Commerce Department figures. In contrast, wages continued to grow in the 1954-1955 deflation period.

Stagnating wages and fading job prospects are sapping demand. Consumer spending may increase in the fourth quarter by just 1 percent and in 2010 by an average of only 1.6 percent, according to the median estimate in the Bloomberg survey of economists.

Consumption rose by an average 5.7 percent a quarter in the five years before the recession began in December 2007.

“A weak labor market in a competitive environment puts downward pressure on wages,” said Stiglitz, who won the Nobel prize for economics in 2001. “So, the possibility of another actual decline in wages cannot be ruled out.”

Declining Incomes

The deflation danger is compounded by household debt, said Paul Ashworth, senior U.S. economist at the consulting firm Capital Economics in Toronto. U.S. homeowners owed $13.9 trillion in the third quarter of 2008, compared with an average of $8.5 trillion in the 57 years the Fed has kept records.

“As incomes start to fall, that debt gets bigger in real terms: You have a smaller income to pay off that debt,” Ashworth said. “Deflation combined with high indebtedness can be very problematic.”

Inflation happens when too much money chases too few goods. Gary Shilling, president of the investment research firm A. Gary Shilling & Co. of Springfield, New Jersey, said that even as the Fed continues to pump money into the economy, the money supply, as measured by the central bank’s M2 index, has dropped 1 percent since mid-June.

“Look what is happening to money supply, it is actually contracting now when supposedly the economy is picking up,” Shilling said in an interview on Bloomberg Television Sept. 21. The economy is facing deflation “because you’ve got basically an excess-supply world,” he said.

Profits Dwindling

Profits have evaporated as companies lose pricing power. The 419 non-financial firms in the S&P 500 reported earnings down 28 percent in the quarter ending June 30. Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg anticipate a 30 percent decline for the third quarter, which ended this week.

“Businesses trying to sell products and services feel they are pushing on a string and are adjusting their behavior accordingly,” Fisher, 60, the Dallas Fed president, said in a Sept. 3 speech at the University of California in Santa Barbara. “They are cutting prices.”

Rodney McMullen, president of Cincinnati-based Kroger, blamed price reductions for second-quarter earnings that fell 10.5 percent short of analysts’ estimates.

“We certainly sold more units. But lower retail prices and profit per unit pressured” results, McMullen told analysts in a Sept. 15 conference call. “We began to see deflation.”

The average amount spent per transaction in August at Issaquah, Washington-based Costco was about 7 percent below last year, Bob Nelson, vice president for financial planning, said on a Sept. 3 conference call with investors.

At Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer, “headwinds” from deflation were in part responsible for a 1.4 percent drop in second-quarter revenue to $100.9 billion, chief financial officer Thomas Schoewe told analysts Aug. 13.

02102009_USTreasuryCurve

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