New Zealand’s Phillips Curve 1993-2017

Bill Phillips (a New Zealander) discovered a stable relationship between the rate of inflation (of wages, to be precise) and unemployment in Britain from the 1850’s to 1960’s. Higher inflation, it seemed, went with lower unemployment. To economists and policymakers this presented a tempting trade-off: lower unemployment could be bought at the price of a bit more inflation. The downward-sloping Phillips curve is apparent in the graph below which plots core inflation against headline unemployment for New Zealand.

There has been also an apparent shift inwards of this relationship where lower rates of unemployment have become possible for a given level of inflation, particularly relative to the 1990s. The simple plot in the graph does not take into account other factors such as changes in import prices, inflationary expectations and capacity constraints which also have the potential to shift the Phillips Curve. These are discussed further below:

1. The price of imports. As the price of imports increase whether it is raw materials or finished products, the price of local goods become more expensive which increase the general price level. Also if a country finds that its exchange rate depreciates the price of imports rises. Oil is a very inelastic import and with a barrel of oil below $30 in 2016 there was little pressure on the CPI. Where inflation has been higher is in those countries that have withdrawn price subsidies and also had sharply falling currencies – Argentina 24% and Egypt 32%.

2. Public Expectations. In recent years more attention has been paid to the psychological effects which rising prices have on people’s behaviour. The various groups which make up the economy, acting in their own self-interest, will actually cause inflation to rise faster than otherwise would be the case if they believe rising prices are set to continue.

Workers, who have tended to get wage rises to ‘catch up’ with previous price increases, will attempt to gain a little extra compensate them for the expected further inflation, especially if they cannot negotiate wage increases for another year. Consumers, in belief that prices will keep rising, buy now to beat the price rises, but this extra buying adds to demand pressures on prices. In a country such as New Zealand’s before the 1990’s, with the absence of competition in many sectors of the economy, this behaviour reinforces inflationary pressures. ‘Breaking the inflationary cycle’ is an important part of permanently reducing inflation. If people believe prices will remain stable, they won’t, for example, buy land and property as a speculation to protect themselves. In Japan firms and employees have become conditioned to expect a lower rate of inflation. Prime minister Shinzo Abe has called for companies to raise wages by 3% to try and kick start inflation.

3. Capacity pressures. This refers to how much ‘slack’ there is in the economy or the ability to increase total output. If capacity pressures are tight that means an economy will find it difficult to increase output so there will be more pressure on prices as goods become more scarce. Unemployment is the most used gauge to measure the slack in the economy and as the economy approached full employment the scarcity of workers should push up the price pf labour – wages. With increasing costs for the firm it is usual for them to increase their prices for the consumer and therefore increasing the CPI. However many labour markets around the world (especially Japan and the USA) have been very tight but there is little sign of inflation. This assumes that the Phillips curve (trade-off between inflation and unemployment) has become less steep. Research by Olivier Blanchard found that a drop in the unemployment rate in the US has less than a third as much power to raise inflation as it did in the mid 1970’s.

This flatter Phillips curve suggests that the cost for central banks in higher inflation of delaying interest-rate rises is rather low.

Bitcoin bubble?

Here is a video from PBS News with Paul Solman – he looks into cryptocurrencies  and tries to explain what they are and how to buy them. Also is bitcoin a bubble?

Professor, author and hedge fund manager Vikram Mansharamani states:

You do need some more stability in the value of it before it gets truly adopted as a currency, not as an instrument of speculation. Today it’s de facto an instrument of speculation or a means through which to fund illicit activities off the grid. Bitcoins and sort of other cryptocurrencies live outside of the traditional banking network. And in fact are intended to do so by design.


US question globalisation whilst India embrace global trade

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a development strategy proposed by the Chinese government that focuses on connectivity and cooperation between Eurasian countries. Through infrastructure development China wants to boost trade and stimulate growth across Asia and into Europe. Ratings agency Fitch said that $900bn in projects were planned or in progress.

India is a country that will benefit from this development and recently Prime Minister Modi positively responded to Chinese President XI Jinping’s vision of the world – the BRI being the most obvious and a catalyst to India’s foreign policy aims which responds to the global trends. These are:

  1. India has the potential to become the world’s third largest economy by 2030. It intends to do this by sharing prosperity and working with other countries to set joint goals.
  2. Political ideologies are now encompassing equity and environmental issues. In India they are becoming more main stream policies for government and sustainable resources use is important in the 21st century.
  3. India is looking at Asia as the largest common market. Asia is reverting to its historical equilibrium of an integrated continent and does not want to choose between India or China. Instead, it supports a resetting of their relations to shape the goals of the ‘Asian Century’, which include the Bell and Belt Initiative and security related differences.
  4. India has a comparative advantage in the digital world and the potential to be the engine behind global growth.
  5. India priority is settling the boundary issues with its neighbours, enhancing diplomatic leverage and building a $10 million economy.

China is trying to improve international norms, technical standards and institutions through the BRI which covers more than 900 projects – 76 ports and terminals in 34 countries and special arbitration courts, about 80% which are contracted to Chinese companies. Whilst Prime Minister Modi is trying to divert the Western framework for reducing emissions in favour of human well-being within ecological limits.

And as the rivalry between the US, and Russia and China intensifies, India can play a stabilising role on agreed goals within the framework of a multi-stakeholder in the “Asian Century”.

Source: Neighbors move toward ‘Asian Century’ – ChinaDaily 28-29th April 2018

Don’t cry for me Argentina – collapsing peso and 40% interest rates

To avoid a run on the peso the Argentinian Central Bank has increased interest rates from 27.5% on 27th April to 40% on 4th May. Argentina’s peso has lost 20% of its value against the US dollar since the start of the year making it the worst performing emerging-market currency.
The problems began in January when the central bank wanted to ease interest rates by increasing the inflation target from 12% to 15% – the government were concerned that the high interest rates were having a detrimental effect on economic growth. However when the Central Bank eased interest rates by 0.75% expectations about inflation started to rise and then investors began to question what the Argentinian Central Bank and Government were trying to achieve with economic policy.

In order to prop up the peso the Argentinian Central Bank sold $4.3bn of its dollar reserves over 5 days and it raised interest rates by 6%. But the peso lost 7.8% of its value during trading on 3rd May so inevitably came an interest hike to 40%. However if inflation figures continue to disappoint the peso will continue its downward slide.

Interest rates are set to continue at high levels and if the central bank cuts rates too early they run the risk of a rerun of the crisis. Fitch (credit rating agency) recently downgraded their outlook for Argentina from positive to stable citing high inflation and economic instability.

But high interest rates are damaging to an economy. By increasing the borrowing costs you make it very difficult for business grow and the economy slows with the threat of a recession and higher unemployment. The key for Argentina will be to keep rates high just long enough to inspire confidence that policymakers have halted the currency run, but not so long that the increase drains the economy.

GDP not the indicator for wellbeing – Robert Kennedy was right 50 years ago

Traditional economic measures, such as gross domestic product (GDP), productivity and economic growth remain fundamentally important but they’re not the whole picture. We think economics is ultimately about improving people’s living standards but you can’t look at GDP as the indicator to focus on.

US senator Robert F Kennedy pointed out 50 years ago that GDP traditionally measures everything except those things that make life worthwhile.

The introduction of the living standards framework in New Zealand takes into account environmental resources, individual and community assets, ‘social capital’ – which includes cultural norms and how people interact – and human capital, such as people’s health, and their skills and qualifications.

By living standards, the NZ Treasury means more than income; it’s people having greater opportunities, capabilities and incentives to live a life that they value, and that they face fewer obstacles to achieving their goals.

Limitations of GDP as a measure of standard of living – see list below.

  1. Regional Variations in income and spending
  2. Inequalities of income and wealth
  3. Leisure and working hours
  4. The balance between consumption and investment
  5. The shadow economy and non-monetised sectors
  6. Changes in life expectancy
  7. Innovation and the development of new products
  8. Defensive expenditures


Has the WTO done enough to help developing countries?

Below is a good clip from Al Jazeera about the problems facing developing economies and it asks the question has the WTO done enough to assist poor nations. It goes back to the WTO: Doha Round of trade talks in 2001 which aimed to lower barriers to trade and therefore facilitate greater global trade but agricultural subsidies and tariffs remain unresolved. The issues seem to be between developed v developing countries and the changing nature of the world economy since 2001.

New Zealand vegetables prices spike in March with bad weather

Tomato, lettuce, cauliflower, cabbage, and broccoli prices rose sharply in March 2018, boosting vegetable prices 9.5 percent in the month after adjusting for typically seasonal changes.

“Vegetable crops have been affected by a run of storms in recent weeks – lower supply (supply curve to the left) due to bad weather usually means higher prices,” consumer prices manager Matthew Haigh said.

“In February, we saw rising prices for lettuce, broccoli, and cauliflower, due to a combination of humid weather and cyclone Gita. As expected, that wet weather has affected vegetable prices in March too.”

Tomatoes rose more than 60 percent in March to $4.65 a kilo. In March last year, tomatoes were 83 cents cheaper at $3.82 a kilo.


Why negative interest rates are justified.

The Free Exchange column in The Economist referred to negative interest rates as neither unfair of unnatural. Irving Fischer used the metaphor of the world’s oldest ship’s biscuits from a voyage back in 1852. Known as hardtack these biscuits were renowned for their longer storage life and therefore making them an important source of nutrition for sailors.

Fischer wrote in ‘The Theory of Interest’ in 1930 an imaginary scenario where a group of sailors are shipwrecked and the only food they have to sustain them is hardtack. Fischer proposed the question ‘under what circumstances would sailors borrow and lend biscuits? For most people interest is the reward for saving and delayed satisfaction so negative interest rates would seem to be unjust. In the case of shipwrecked sailors if one of them is prepared to lend another a biscuit the lender would want more than one biscuit in return and the more hungry they are the higher the interest rate. However Fischer pointed out that the interest rate should be zero as if it were positive it would mean that the sailor would have to take more than one hardtack biscuit to repay the loan. However no sailor would accept these terms as he could instead eat one more piece from his own supply, thereby reducing his future consumption by one hardtack biscuit. And a sailor who had already depleted his supply would be in no position to repay borrowed biscuits. If for instance the sailors were washed ashore with perishable items the interest rate would be negative – Fischer concludes that the rate of interest for any commodity should be negative not positive.

Recently banks in Japan, Switzerland, Denmark and Sweden started charging customers for saving money which asks the question why should people pay to keep their money in banks when they had already earned it? But charging customers interest is a natural occurrence when you consider that savers preserve their purchasing power without any care required to prevent any resources eroding. In 1916 economist Silvio Gesell gave his treatise in favour of negative interest rates on money. His said that storing wealth required considerable effort and ingenuity especially commodities like meat, wheat, fruit etc which are perishable. Gesell said that our goods rot, decay, break and rust. Only if money depreciated at a similar pace would people be as anxious to spend it as suppliers were to sell their perishable commodities. To keep the economy going he wanted money to rot like potatoes and rust like iron.

The negative interest rate introduced by Japan accompanied by an inflation target three years before is in effect pursuing Gesell’s dream of a currency that rots and rusts, albeit by only 2% a year.

Source: The Economist – Free Exchange – 3rd February 2018

Wages in the English Premier League – Demand-Pull Inflation

You are no doubt are well aware of the staggering wages that the English Premier League player receive especially when you consider other occupations.

What ultimately the salary explosion has been driven by the huge amounts of money that is now at the disposable of some of the top clubs. In economics this refers to the concept of demand-pull inflation where the supply has not kept apace with the demand for world-class players. Below is graph showing both demand-pull and cost-push.