Customers stand in line to check out at a grocery store in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images
After lying dormant for years, inflation is once again chipping away at American wallets, and it has become a chief concern for the White House.
In recent months, the Biden administration ramped up its efforts to remedy the supply-chain interruptions economists blame for hot inflation. And President Joe Biden has been pushing his economic agenda as a remedy for inflation worries.
But ask investors, economists and the American people for their thoughts on inflation, and no one sees inflation cooling off anytime soon. That means everyone from the president to the everyday voter will likely need patience to get through this.
“I don’t think you want to promise people inflation is going away,” said Jason Furman, an economist and former chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers during the Obama administration.
“I think the hardest thing to communicate is that not every problem has a solution. Some of what needs to be done to heal our economy is to be patient,” he continued. “That’s a really hard a message for any president to deliver. They have to be seen as doing things.”
Rising food and gas prices are weighing on Americans living on fixed or modest incomes. Retail grocery prices rose 1% in October, laundry and dry-cleaning costs are up 6.9% from a year ago, and in some parts of California gasoline is being sold north of $6 a gallon. General Mills notified retailers that it plans to soon hike prices on dozens of its brands, including Cheerios, Wheaties and Annie’s, according to a report published Tuesday.
In turn, the inflation messaging coming out of the White House has focused a great deal on two big, Biden-backed bills. One of the president’s favorite counters to inflation worries is to point out that many economists say his $1.75 trillion Build Back Better bill and a separate $1 trillion infrastructure plan will make businesses and workers more productive and ease inflation pressures over the long term.
Yet while better roads, access to child care and weatherization may help reduce costs years in the future, Democrats face critical midterm elections in less than 12 months.
Inflation appeared to be a hurdle for Democrat Terry McAuliffe, who lost to Republican Glenn Youngkin in Virginia’s recent gubernatorial election.
Political strategists viewed that election as a gauge of voter attitude toward the current direction of policy with Democrats in control of the White House and Congress. The high-profile Democratic defeat in an increasingly blue Virginia is thought to have sparked compromise between party centrists and progressives on the infrastructure and anti-poverty and climate bills.
Americans’ angst about the economy, as measured by the percentage of those surveyed who mention any economic issue as the top problem facing the U.S., reached a pandemic-era high according to polling firm Gallup. (The survey polled a random sampling of 815 adults, and it had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.)
Twenty-six percent of Americans now cite an economic concern as the nation’s top problem, while 7% say inflation, specifically, is their chief anxiety. In September, just 1% of Americans named inflation as their top worry, Gallup said. It has been more than 20 years since inflation was named as the most important problem by at least 7% of Americans.
“Moms and dads are worried, asking, ‘Will there be enough food we can afford to buy for the holidays? Will we be able to get Christmas presents to the kids on time?'” Biden said in a speech on Tuesday.
To help ease fuel costs during the holiday season, Biden announced that the U.S. and some of its allies will tap their national strategic petroleum reserves.
“The fact is we’ve faced even worst spikes before just in the last decade,” Biden said of rising gas prices. “But it doesn’t mean we should just stand by idly and wait for prices to drop on their own.”
While the Biden administration said it would put 50 million barrels of oil from government stockpiles onto global markets in the coming weeks, some analysts warned the action likely amounts at best to an attempt to pacify consumers.
Tapping the nation’s oil reserves will have a limited impact on fuel costs since “nearly 40% of the 50MM bbl release was already planned for 2022 as well as the fact that much of the oil will simply go into commercial stockpiles,” wrote Tom Essaye, founder of Sevens Report, a markets research firm.
That oil will eventually be repurchased “and later returned to the SPR, meaning the move is largely symbolic and not going to have a major impact on the actual physical markets,” he added.
Furman, who teaches economics at Harvard University, agreed. He said that drawing on the SPR falls into the “no-stone-left-unturned” category for a White House worried about the political impact of rising prices.
The current inflation, he said, is a function of broad shifts in aggregate demand and aggregate supply — beyond the influence of a one-time appeal to the SPR or any other quick fix.
A pesky characteristic of inflation is that today’s price increases are a product of what people think prices will be tomorrow. In other words, inflation expectations can, by themselves, cause inflation.
According to New York Federal Reserve Bank’s most-recent consumer survey, median inflation expectations in October increased to 5.7% for the coming year, the highest level ever recorded since the series began in 2013.
A measure of investors’ expectation for inflation over the next five years has spiked in recent months.
The difference between the yields on five-year Treasury inflation-protected securities, or TIPS, and the corresponding Treasury notes hit 3.17 on Wednesday, its highest level since at least 2003. That effectively means that investors think inflation will average about 3% over the next five years.
The recent uptick in market-based inflation expectations drew the attention of Federal Reserve officials during their November policy meeting. Their meeting minutes, released Wednesday, showed that some central bankers considered the jump as evidence that rising inflation forecasts are starting to go mainstream.
“A couple of participants pointed to increases in survey- and market-based indicators of expected inflation—including the notable rise in the five-year TIPS-based measure of inflation compensation—as possible signs that inflation expectations were becoming less well anchored,” the Fed minutes read.
“I’ve been teaching my students the model that would have helped them predict inflation this year. And that model is that, if you’re way short in demand, then extra demand can help,” he said.
“But if you try to push it too far, you run into a supply constraint,” he continued. “You’ll end up with higher prices rather than higher quantities.”
European Central Bank heads into pivotal meeting with omicron infections rising
Christine Lagarde, president of the ECB, speaks at the Bank’s press conference in Frankfurt, Germany.
Boris Roessler | picture alliance | Getty Images
With inflation surging and the omicron Covid variant expected to spread through the region, the European Central Bank has the unenviable task of presenting its policy outlook for 2022 on Thursday.
The rise in the cost of living for the euro area (the 19 nations that share the euro) reached a record high of 4.9% in November, while omicron looks likely to become the dominant coronavirus strain with some European economies already locked down due to the delta variant.
“The sharp rise in infections and inflation and the emergence of the new Omicron variant has complicated the picture to an extent that the Governing Council may need more time to decide on all the details of adjusting its non-conventional policy tool,” said Dirk Schumacher, an ECB watcher with Natixis, in a recent research note.
The institution led by Christine Lagarde developed a new bond-buying program in the wake of the coronavirus in March 2020 to support the euro zone. The PEPP is due to end in March 2022 with a potential total envelope of 1.85 trillion euros ($2.19 trillion).
The ECB has also kept its asset purchase program, known as APP, amid the pandemic which has a current monthly pace of 20 billion euros. The central bank has been using this program in combination with PEPP to sustain the 19-member economy.
Schumacher added that Natixis still expects an announcement that the PEPP program will end by March and “we expect a clear signal that the APP will be used in a more flexible way.”
A big focus of this week’s meeting will be the new staff projections for inflation and growth. They show whether the inflation target of 2% will be met over the medium term, which is ultimately ECB’s primary mandate.
“I see an inflation profile which looks like a hump. So it has clearly increased over the last three quarters and we know how painful it is,” Lagarde said at a Reuters conference on Dec. 3,
“And a hump eventually declines and this is what we project for 2022,” she added.
Another key question is how the ECB will bridge the end of the PEPP program at the end of March into a more flexible and potentially larger APP without provoking major market volatility and keeping financial conditions on “favourable” terms. The ECB is expected to stress the need for flexibility.
“Flexibility, in our view, means varying purchases depending on the inflation outlook and financing conditions, i.e. preserving the principle of ‘favourable financing conditions’ that characterises the PEPP,” Spyros Andreopoulos, a senior European economist at BNP Paribas, said in a note.
“This view has been supported by recent ECB rhetoric that has emphasised the need to maintain flexibility, as opposed to pre-committing to a fixed volume of purchases.”
UK inflation hits 10-year high ahead of key Bank of England meeting
Shoppers wearing protective face masks walk through the rain on Oxford Street in London on June 18, 2020, as some non-essential retailers reopen from their coronavirus shutdown.
Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images
LONDON — U.K. inflation climbed to a 10-year high in November as consumer prices continued to soar ahead of the Bank of England‘s crunch monetary policy meeting on Thursday.
The Consumer Price Index rose by 5.1% in the 12 months to November, up from 4.2% in October, which was itself the steepest incline for a decade and more than double the central bank’s target.
Economists polled by Reuters had expected a reading of 4.7% for November, and the Bank of England had projected that inflation would hit 5% in the spring of 2022 before moderating towards its 2% target in late 2023.
On a monthly basis, U.K. inflation rose 0.7% in November from October, above a Reuters poll for a 0.4% increase.
Core CPI, which excludes volatile energy, food, alcohol and tobacco prices, rose by 4% year-on-year against a Reuters forecast of 3.7%, and 0.5% month-on-month versus a 0.3% projection.
The Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee meets Thursday to decide whether to tighten monetary policy, with inflation surging and the labor market remaining robust, but the rapid spread of the omicron Covid-19 variant has cast fresh uncertainty over the economic recovery in the short term.
The MPC defied market expectations in November by voting 7-2 to hold interest rates at their historic low of 0.1%, but analysts are split on whether it will pull the trigger on rate hikes on Thursday in light of the emergence of omicron.
“Unfortunately for consumers, peak inflation may still be a few months off. Today’s CPI data only serves to increase the pressure on the Bank of England to raise interest rates at its MPC meeting tomorrow,” said Richard Carter, head of fixed interest research at Quilter Cheviot.
“However, the Bank of England may well decide that discretion is the better part of valour and instead opt to wait until next year given the current uncertainty surrounding the impact of the Omicron variant on the economy, coupled with the risk that further restrictions may need to be introduced before long.”
Most Chinese companies could delist from US, says TCW Group
Budrul Chukrut | LightRocket | Getty Images
Chinese companies listed on Wall Street will likely to be cut off from U.S. capital markets in the next three years as tensions between Beijing and Washington persist, says one global asset management firm.
“I think for a lot of Chinese companies listed in U.S. markets, it’s essentially game over,” David Loevinger, managing director for emerging markets sovereign research at TCW Group, told CNBC Wednesday. “This is an issue that’s been hanging out there for 20 years — we haven’t been able to solve it.”
TCW Group had $265.8 billion in assets under management as of September 30, 2021, according to the company’s website.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission this month finalized rules to implement a law that would allow the market regulator to ban foreign companies listed in the U.S. from trading if their auditors do not comply with requests for information from American regulators.
The law was passed in 2020 after Chinese regulators repeatedly denied requests from the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board to inspect the audits of Chinese firms that list and trade in the United States.
Given the current level of distrust between the U.S. and Chinese governments, and with the bilateral relationship unlikely to improve anytime soon, there is “no way we are going to solve this in the next few years,” Loevinger said.
“So the reality is, I think, by 2024, most Chinese companies listed on U.S. exchanges are no longer going to be listed in the United States. Most are going to gravitate back to Hong Kong or Shanghai,” he told CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia.”
Less than six months after going public, Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi said it will start delisting from the New York Stock Exchange, and make plans to list in Hong Kong instead.
When a company delists from an exchange like the Nasdaq or the New York Stock Exchange, it loses access to a broad pool of buyers, sellers and intermediaries.
Chinese regulators were reportedly unhappy with Didi’s decision to list in the U.S. without first resolving outstanding cybersecurity concerns. Regulators told the firm’s executives to come up with a plan to delist from the U.S. due to concerns around data leakage, according to reports.
Beyond Didi, many of China’s top internet companies listed in the U.S. have already undertaken dual listings in Hong Kong. Some high-profile names include e-commerce giant Alibaba, its rival JD.com, search engine giant Baidu, gaming firm NetEase and social media giant Weibo.
“We have already hit the turning point,” Loevinger said, pointing to Didi’s delisting announcement. “I just don’t think China’s government is going to allow U.S. regulators to have unfettered access to internal auditing documents of Chinese companies.”
“And if U.S. regulators can’t get access to those documents, then they can’t protect U.S. markets from fraud,” he added.