Home > CPI, Tweet Summary > Summary of My Post-CPI Tweets (June 2023)

Summary of My Post-CPI Tweets (June 2023)

Below is a summary of my post-CPI tweets. You can (and should!) follow me @inflation_guy, but subscribers to @InflGuyPlus get the tweets in real time and a conference call wrapping it all up by about the time the stock market opens. Subscribe by going to the shop at https://inflationguy.blog/shop/ , where you can also subscribe to the Enduring Investments Quarterly Inflation Outlook. Sign up for email updates to my occasional articles here. Individual and institutional investors, issuers and risk managers with interests in this area be sure to stop by Enduring Investments! Check out the Inflation Guy podcast!

  • Welcome to the #CPI #inflation walkup for July (June’s figure).
  • At 8:30ET, when the data drops, I will run a bunch of charts. Because Twitter has made auto-posting them difficult (still not sure it’s impossible), I’ll post those charts manually with commentary as I go. Then I’ll run some other charts.
  • After I’m tweeted out, I’ll have a conference call with my overall thoughts. This is usually around 9:30ish. Later, I will post a summary of these tweets at https://inflationguy.blog and then podcast a summary at inflationguy.podbean.com .
  • Thanks again for subscribing!
  • The forecasts this month are almost comically low. Keeping in mind that last month, core came in high at 0.44%, and hasn’t been close to 0.3% since October – my forecast is the highest except for Cleveland Fed.
  • The first forecasts out of major banks were low even though they had a bump higher from Used Cars. Such a bump seems unlikely, although last month I thought would drag and it did not. But the surveys are worse this month.
  • Later bank estimates penciled in declines in Used Cars that make more sense. For a while I thought I was doing something wrong.
  • I’m not TOTALLY sure Used Cars will be a LARGE drag. Black Book declined in June, but it also did LAST June, and the Used Cars CPI rose. So there may be a seasonal glitch here that’s not being picked up (or is over compensated for).
  • My arms-length calculation suggests an 8bp drag from a -2.4% decline in used car CPI, but I will not be surprised if it’s unchanged. I WILL be surprised at an increase.
  • On the other hand, used car CPI has been running ahead of Black Book for a couple of months so perhaps that effect already happened. Thus in classic economist fashion I split the difference and penciled in a 1.2% decline, a 4bp drag on core.
  • As you can see from this chart, once you make a minor volatility adjustment Black Book is a VERY good forecast of y/y used car CPI. There is volatility in the month/month (some due to seasonals) but it’s heroic to forecast a large miss.
  • Now, aside from Used Cars there must be other drags to give us the lowest core CPI in a long time. The large banks are looking for another decline in airfares and a retracement of the strength in lodging away from home.
  • (To be clear, I don’t usually spend much time looking at other forecasts until after I’m done with mine. But I peeked more this month because of the really low forecasts coming out).
  • Basically, the Covid categories, along with a sequential additional slowing in rents. I have rents a trifle softer too, but not a ton.
  • Traders on Kalshi though MUST have big declines in rents penciled in. The Kalshi forecast for core is among the lowest out there, AND it has been really steady. Decent volumes (compared to history) too. Never say never.
  • I think part of what is going on is that summer seasonals drag a lot from the NSA figure. By forecasting low month/month numbers, economists are basically saying the trends haven’t picked up like in a normal summer.
  • I am not so sure of that. A lot of those are broad trends, not just in Lodging Away from Home or rents. But I think that’s the source of some of these soft forecasts, implicitly.
  • A quick look at the month’s trading leading up to this. Pretty stable overall. Yields are significantly higher, but not in a sloppy way, and breakevens/CPI swaps only marginally wider. Slow summer trading for the most part it seems!
  • One final note here. I said last month that we want to see the numbers not only head lower but also BROADLY lower, not just pulled lower by a few outliers. That means rents, it means services ex-rents. Not just health care services, not just Used Cars.
  • So we will look beyond the headline for that. Good luck!

  • Kalshi ftw I guess! 0.158% on Core and 0.180% on headline.
  • First glance, I see -8.11% on Airfares and -2.01% on Lodging AFH. I still don’t see any airfares declining but they have been for several months. This is a BIG one.
  • This clearly looks like a trend change, but I’d be a little careful.
  • Decline in Education/Communication. Everything else positive but very tame.
  • Core goods (+1.3% y/y) went back down, although I suspect that’s mostly base effects. Core Services turning down more in earnest (+6.2%). But again…
  • OER and Primary rents have clearly peaked, but no surprise there. OER was +0.45% m/m, down sequentially from +0.52% last month; Primary rents were +0.46%, down from +0.49%. No collapse here.
  • So this tells the story better. My estimate of Median is 0.365% m/m. Still better! But not the collapse that core is suggesting. Which tells you the core drop is a tail thing.
  • Sorry, make my estimate 0.359%. Energy Services looks like the median category.
  • So the “COVID Categories” are where the intrigue is. Airfares as I said, -8.1% m/m. Lodging Away from Home -2.01% m/m. Used Cars was -0.45%, not as low as I’d expected but not an add. Motor Vehicle Insurance was +1.41% m/m…and probably will continue to be. New cars -0.03% m/m.
  • Car/Truck Rental -1.43% m/m. Baby Food -1.29%. Health Insurance the usual (for this year; reversing some next year) -3.61% m/m. College tuition is interesting, flat on the month.
  • But look: Food Away from Home: +0.38% m/m. Remember, that’s wage-sensitive. So let’s look at the four pieces and see what is happening to core services ex rents.
  • Before we do though, here is a chart of (NSA) Airfares. According to the BLS, airfares are back down to where they were pre-Covid. I do not understand that one.
  • Piece 1: Food and Energy. Declining on a y/y basis. Now, Food overall was up this month, so was energy, but less than the normal seasonals would suggest and less than last year.
  • This was always going to happen – food and energy mean-revert. It was only a surprise in how long it took.
  • Core goods, shown before. This is partly due to better supply chains but also partly due to dollar strength. The question is whether it goes back to 0% or slightly negative. I think that’s unlikely, and it matters for whether inflation ultimately settles back where it started.
  • Core Services less Rent of Shelter – this looks great! The usual reminder that some of it is a function of the Health Insurance drag that will stop in a few months, and eventually reverse. This will make the Fed feel better though. Yeah, it’s probably not as good as it looks.
  • And piece 4, Rent of Shelter. Still way up there, but hooking lower. Is it going to 3% like some forecast? No.
  • Core ex-housing dropped to 2.80% y/y, the lowest since March 2021. Part and parcel of the overall nice tone to these numbers. But a lot of them still trace back to a few things, which we’ll see when we look at the distributions.
  • This chart won’t change your life but I just want to update it with today’s numbers. Again I wonder what the people calling for an uptick in Used Car prices were looking at. Very modelable.
  • Don’t think I said that my estimate of y/y Median is 6.45%, down from 6.74% last month and 7.20% in February.
  • Biggest declines (annualized m/m): Public Transport -57%, Lodging Away from Home -22%, Car/Truck Rental -16%. See any outliers? Biggest increases: Motor Vehicle Insurance +22%, Motor Vehicle Maintenance/Repair +17%. Striking the low and high outliers sort of balance except…
  • And yeah, most of “Public Transportation” is Airline Fares. Other intercity transportation and Intracity transportation are small weights (and both positive m/m btw). The NSA decline in Airline fares was -6.5%. So not a seasonal glitch: airline fares are plunging. (?)
  • Just speculating…there’s been a lot of talk about the improved fuel efficiency so passenger miles are running far ahead of jet fuel demand. So maybe some of this is passing the increased efficiency on to customers (through competition, not benevolence).
  • Congrats to anyone who saw that coming to that degree.
  • Getting into some of the diffusion stuff. This is the Enduring Investments Inflation Diffusion Index. Dropping all the way to 12 this month. Very good news.
  • So gasoline and public transportation go into the mental model of the consumer as one chip each, even though the average consumer buys FAR more gasoline than public transport. But those chips in “transportation” aren’t the same as those in “the food aisle.”
  • Anyway that’s the short version.
  • Just saw Wireless Telephone Services was -1.46% m/m NSA. That’s odd – ever since data became basically free, the steady deterioration in wireless telephony costs has stopped. This won’t be repeated. The category is 1.8% of core so that’s 2.6bps of drag.
  • Last chart. You can see that there is a big weight in 2%-and-under items, a secondary distribution/smattering around 5ish, the two big spikes for shelter, and some far-right-tail items. This is an unclear picture.The far-left items are mostly goods, and the rest mostly services.
  • We can all “know” that the airfares and wireless stuff won’t be repeated, and recognize that wage growth is still high (6% on the Wage Growth Tracker) so the important wood is yet to chop. But shelter is in slow retreat, and overall trends look good.
  • The data is not exacting any price for a Fed pause. And indeed, hiking into this presents the risk of looking like too much, later. I think the odds of a Fed hike just dropped a lot (I never thought the argument in favor of one was very good, though).
  • OK, let’s do a conference call in 5 minutes, at 9:45ET. Call in if you want! [REDACTED] Access Code [REDACTED]

There is no doubting that this was a good number for the market, for the Fed, and for consumers. Yes, core inflation is still 4.8% y/y and Median is still well above 6%. But they’re declining, and that decline will continue.

It’s important to recognize, though, that there has been little debate that there is a deceleration coming in the y/y, partly because of base effects but partly because the Fed has stopped squirting liquidity everywhere. The question is whether inflation is headed back to 2% any time soon. Note that core goods is still well above zero, even with a very strong dollar. If Core Goods doesn’t get negative, there’s not much chance at getting core inflation back to 2% (and note that home prices are rising again, which puts paid to the argument that rents are going to imminently collapse because home prices are going to decline).

What we didn’t see in this figure was the broad deceleration that we really need to see. It is broadening, I suppose, which is why median CPI is slowly declining. We saw huge drops in a few categories that won’t be repeated. Airfares. Cell phones. What we didn’t see were huge jumps in any categories, and that’s encouraging.

The most interesting (and non-repeatable) part of the CPI data was airfares, which was a 5bp drag on core CPI. Amazingly airfares in the CPI are back to the level (not inflation rate, but the price level) seen prior to COVID. Part is lower jet fuel prices, as the regression above showed. But there’s more to it.

I find it plausible that some of the decline in airfares is due to less fuel intensity: more passenger miles with less jet fuel, which is a trend we’ve seen in the weekly energy data. But…have you really seen air fares going down? I haven’t. But I wouldn’t discard this data or expect it to reverse on that basis. Here’s one possible explanation, which is potentially a good reminder not to rely too much on anecdotal evidence without remembering to put the accent on “anecdotal” more than “evidence”: I don’t fly business class, and I don’t buy business tickets. If I were an airline, that’s where I’d be cutting prices – for the non-leisure traveler. Business travel is down, for sure, and is far more discretionary than it used to be. So if you cut the price to the business traveler, overall fares can decline…even if you and I aren’t seeing them. By the way, that’s not the BLS explanation but my supposition.

We need to remember that prior to this figure, there was strong stasis at about 0.4% for core CPI. It’s difficult for me to believe that we jumped from ~5% annualized to ~2% annualized on core, without a stop in between. That being said…this sort of number is great for stocks, and great for bonds, compared to just about any other print. I don’t necessarily think it’s a sign of a sea change, because the big slow-moving parts of CPI aren’t decelerating very quickly. But I can understand the enthusiasm in the markets among those who ignore value and ‘just trade the number’.

This figure also puts the Fed in a bind…or it would, if you really believe the Fed earnestly wants to yank rates up another 50-100bps. I don’t believe that, and think the Fed speakers are mostly burnishing their hawkish credentials to keep markets from getting ahead of themselves. Indeed, they might speak more hawkishly after this, making clear that further hikes are still on the table even though the odds of taking a pass this month just went up a lot.

So enjoy the number! But don’t necessarily get used to it. (That said…Kalshi traders right now have Core CPI for next month at 0.16% m/m. And they were right this month! But repeating this figure without airfares and cell phones will be a serious trick.)

  1. Mike Myers
    July 12, 2023 at 7:28 pm

    cellular consumers switching from main lines to MVNO’s?

    • July 13, 2023 at 7:08 am

      Good thought. Although if that’s the case, I’d expect a steady and consistent decline rather than a sharp drop in one month. Right?

      Although the bigger problem here is that that’s a basket-change thing and not a price thing. That is, it would be caught in a consumption re-weight and not a monthly survey of prices. Unless the mainlines are offering deals to try to keep customers away from MVNOs, which WOULD show up as a price decrease.

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