Home > CPI, Tweet Summary, Uncategorized > Summary of My Post-CPI Tweets (August 2021)

Summary of My Post-CPI Tweets (August 2021)

Below is a summary of my post-CPI tweets. You can (and should!) follow me @inflation_guy. Or, sign up for email updates to my occasional articles here. Investors, issuers and risk managers with interests in this area be sure to stop by Enduring Investments! And, of course, download the Inflation Guy app from your app store!

  • Now for the walk up: We’ve now had four “high” surprises in a row from the CPI report. In each case, the market for the setting (in the interbank CPI market) has been closer than the economists’ estimate, but still too low.
  • The last four prints on CORE CPI are +0.34%, +0.92%, +0.74%, and +0.88%. The economist consensus for today is 0.4%, with the market closer to a rounded-up 0.5%.
  • (N.b. Core CPI doesn’t trade, but the headline CPI index traded at 273.1 yesterday and that implies 0.54% m/m on headline and something a little less on core)
  • If the economists are right, y/y headline will drop down to 5.3% (just barely) and core to 4.3% from 4.5%. That will be the first decline in quite a while. Unfortunately, the comparisons to last year get easier from here. For the next 7 mos, core is comping 0.14% on average.
  • So even if today we see an ebb in y/y due to base effects, I believe we still have significantly higher highs in core inflation ahead.
  • Now, on the details: we may ACTUALLY see a DECLINE in Used Cars CPI, as the Black Book Used Vehicle Retention Index, the best leading indicator of Used Car CPI, dropped 2.5% last month.
  • But before you get too excited, note that the change in the BB index m/m only has the same SIGN as the change in the used car/truck index about 50% of the time over the last decade. Lagged 1 month, it’s about 60%.
  • So better chance for a decline in used cars next month. But it’s a risk of a drag, and it hasn’t been a risk for a while. One way or the other, the BIG contributions from Used Cars are past.
  • On the other hand, there’s still other “reopening categories” such as airfares, lodging away from home, and car/truck rental that are likely to still be jumpy. And New Cars as well, though this is less obviously a ‘reopening category’ and more about supply chain.
  • Who cares about those, honestly. If that’s where the strength comes from, economists just wave their hands dismissively and say “transitory.” Where I’m focused is shelter (of course), and on BREADTH.
  • Shelter will eventually rise a lot. For a while, the eviction moratorium was holding the average-paid-rent below asking rent increases. And, with another (questionable) extension in the moratorium, that effect is still there.
  • But we have started to see some increases in Primary rents and OER anyway. The difference is just too wide. So, while the meat of that acceleration is ahead of us by some ways, I’m expecting to see it start to happen.
  • And breadth – that’s the real story to watch. Our diffusion index is the highest in years, because it’s not JUST the reopening categories (whatever you read). The scariest number would be another 0.5% on core but without contribution from reopening categories.
  • Now what’s the market impact? Interesting question. There now looks like there is a majority of Fed heads who are willing to at least talk about tapering, and a high core number will reinforce that. But the important voices on the Committee remain firmly dovish.
  • Personally I think that, faced with the decision of somewhat higher inflation vs sharply lower markets, the Fed will err on the side of somewhat higher inflation and keep hoping their models are right.
  • So buy dips in breakevens (the high tails are not priced in, anyway), but not sure I’d be as eager to sell strength in nominals. Stocks probably go up either way, because that’s what stocks do these days (until they don’t).
  • There’s a lot of chatter from companies about being forced to push through price increases and seeing consumers actually not push back as much as they thought, so this is feeling less transitory every day. Don’t think we are going back to 0.1%-0.2% per month soon.
  • That’s all for now. My gut tells me the consensus has finally gotten to something close to a fair bet, but I won’t be shocked at all if we get another 0.7% on core. I also won’t be surprised by a small miss lower caused by some one-off change. So fair, but large error bars.

  • Well, on headline CPI it was finally a tie between economists (slightly too low) and the market (equally too high). But pretty close. Core was 0.33% m/m, slightly soft of estimates.
  • 0.33% m/m, of course, is still 4% annualized on core. But let’s see the breakdown.
  • Glancing I can see the curious bit will be the softness in Primary Rents. 0.156% m/m vs 0.23% last month. That seems odd, but importantly it also is unsustainable. Primary rents are going to go MUCH higher.
  • In reopening categories, Airfares FELL -0.14% m/m (+2.7% last mo). Lodging Away from Home +6% (+6.95% last). Used Cars +0.22% m/m – no decline, but feels like it after +10.5% last month! New Cars +1.72% m/m.
  • Now here’s a big surprise in a very little category. So not much impact, but car and truck rental -4.6% m/m. Last month +5.2%. Rented a car recently? That’s an odd one. But only 0.13% of CPI so rounds to 0.01% effect.
  • The broad core categories: Core Goods +8.5% y/y (8.7% last month); Core Services +2.9% (3.1% last month).
  • Core inflation ex-shelter decelerated to only 5.3% y/y from 5.8%. That’s a little tongue-in-cheek. But to be fair, used cars is still a large part of this.
  • Only large declines (<-10% annualized) in core were Car & Truck Rental and Motor Vehicle Insurance. Large increases in Lodging Away from Home (101%), Personal Care Services (29%), New Vehicles (23%), Car parts/equipment (13%) and Car maintenance/repair (11%). All m.m ann’lized.
  • Early guess at Median is that it will be 0.30%, which would be the highest in several years if I am right. And that speaks to breadth.
  • Here is y/y Rent of Primary Residence. Again, this has a long way to go, to well above the prior levels in fact, unless the boom in housing prices never get reflected in rents.
  • And here is Owners’ Equivalent Rent. Which is moving higher a little more earnestly, but still reasonably inert.
  • Haven’t mentioned apparel. On a nonseasonally-adjusted basis it fell 1% m/m, but seasonally adjusted +0.04%.
  • And I haven’t mentioned Medical Care. Overall +0.26% m/m. Breakdown: Drugs +0.17% (-0.39% last month), Doctors’ Services +0.40% (+0.26%), Hospital Services +0.55% (+0.22%). Some signs there.
  • CPI – Doctors’ Services (y/y). Interesting ratchet pattern.
  • …if you ever think you understand the CPI, just look at Health Insurance. In the CPI, Health Insurance is a residual since consumers don’t pay most health insurance directly. Went from +21% to -9% y/y over last year.
  • So, the four-pieces breakdown. Then we’ll look at diffusion. Here is Food & Energy. No surprise. Not core, but felt in the pocketbook acutely especially by lower-wage employees.
  • Core Goods – slightly off the boil, thanks to Used Cars. This will come back down as the y/y Used Car spike gradually leaves the data. I’m not worried about this staying at 8%. But 4% or 5% given global shipping problems – wouldn’t surprise me.
  • Core services, ex rent-of-shelter. Air fare softness, motor vehicle insurance softness, car and truck rental softness – none of those likely to remain very soft in the near term I don’t think. And medical care heating up a little.
  • And rent of shelter. To be sure, a lot of this is Lodging-Away-from-Home. But then, so was most of the decline. This piece is going MUCH higher over the next year. Our model for OER has it over 5% next year.
  • Now, the big story is the diffusion. Inflation is broadening. Our inflation diffusion index is the highest in nine years. So it isn’t just the reopening categories, folks. Your eyes ain’t lying.
  • Here is the distribution of category price changes. Six months ago, this was skewed to the left. Now, it’s skewed to the right. Long tails to the high side is a signature of an inflationary process.
  • So, let’s sum up. The reopening categories are lessening in importance as we knew they would. Is inflation transitory then? It depends on the answer two two questions:
  • is shelter inflation going to rise? And/or is that transitory? Shelter is slow, and right now it is depressed by the eviction moratorium. It has a LONG way to go, unless home prices and wages plunge. I don’t see those things happening. Ergo, we’re going to see more here.
  • Is inflation due to supply chain constraints in a narrow group of categories? Answer here is no. Price acceleration is broadening. Apparent shortages, resulting in higher price, is how supply/demand imbalances are reconciled in a market economy – even if it’s demand-side.
  • The comps for core inflation get easier going forward. 0.35% next month, but then 0.19%, 0.07%, 0.17%, 0.05%, 0.03%, and 0.10%. Core inflation is going to reach new highs into early 2022. And Median inflation is going to gradually accelerate too as inflation broadens.
  • Last month, the CPI was high but it really WAS mostly about Used Cars. This month is lower, but it’s more worrisome because of the broadening of inflation pressures. I think there’s no turning back now. Inflation expectations are going to be broken.
  • Will the Fed care? I give a ‘taper’ sometime this year maybe a 50-50 chance, although I don’t think it will last very long since the moment that stocks and bonds soften, QE will be back. Every taper so far has led eventually to larger QE!
  • I give almost no chance of an actual hike in the overnight rate, for a very long time. I don’t think Powell or Brainard are going to turn into hawks – they may express alarm at inflation but they would be more alarmed by an equity bear market. Hope I’m wrong.
  • That’s all for today. Remember to download the Inflation Guy app. Tune into @TDANetwork at 1:45ET today. And register for the Simplify webinar tomorrow at https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/5216230941517/WN_O20LE_xlRUOAe7ysdVBDnA  Harley Bassman and Mike Green are the hosts! Busy busy Inflation Guy. Thanks for tuning in!

Well, I had said “the scariest number would be another 0.5% on core but without contribution from reopening categories.” We didn’t exactly get that; it was a little softer on core and some of the reopening categories still contributed. But not all of them. The number of inflating categories is getting broader, and shelter is starting to rise – although still very slowly, thanks to the continued eviction moratorium. All that means is that the rise in rents will be smeared over a longer period, and won’t really get started for a few months although I think there are starting to be clues in the data that shelter costs are percolating. With soft comps, this means that late Q3 and Q4 are very likely to see a sharp acceleration in core inflation. If we only average 0.3% m/m on core inflation, then by March (February’s print) core inflation will be at 5.4%, compared to 4.3% now.

Will that matter to the Fed? Until the people come with torches, probably not. However, these days – I wouldn’t count out the possibility of torch-bearing mobs.

  1. Craig
    August 17, 2021 at 1:11 pm

    My speculation is Biden will enact Nixonesque wage and price controls just before 2022 midterms. Not sure how much actual bite they will have, but at minimum it will at least appear he’s trying to do something about inflation.

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: