Macroeconomics

“Core” inflation might be reflecting pressures solely generated by retailers.

Data on both unemployment and prices have monetary policy analysts wondering whether or not the US supply side of the economy is heading towards overheating. Thus far, indicators on industrial production and capacity utilization show there is still room for the economy to advance at a good pace without risking too many resources. Such indicators are produced and tracked by the monetary authority of the nation, so they have particular relevance for every analysis. However, there still are data on both unemployment and prices to help out with the diagnosis of the actual economic situation. On one hand, 92% of the metropolitan areas in the nation experienced lower unemployment rates in July 2015 than a year earlier, while only 20 metro areas showed higher rates. On the other, measure of the “core” inflation, which isolates energy and foods price volatility, reaches 1.8 percent change from the first quarter of 2015.

So, if higher production leads to lower unemployment, and the latter in turn leads to higher prices, then the easiest way to identify whether or not an economy is overheating is by analyzing to what extent prices changes are pushed up by falling rates of unemployment. This far of 2015, both conditions are met apparently. Unemployment rates are indeed falling; therefore, it could mean production is moving up. Then, what is a stake currently is to clarify whether or not US production is exceeding its capacity. Again, by looking at capacity indexes, it seems not to be the case right now. But, it is better to make sure it is not happening and thereby ruling out any alternative possibility.

Many econometric methods will help analysts to achieve valuable conclusions.

Perhaps digging into the price setting relation through regressing real wages on profits may yield some clues about the current situation. However, econometric models would severely hide the actual magnitude of oil and energy price volatility. Therefore, a rather quicker alternative lives in qualitative data. In other words, if analysts would like to know whether or not companies would transfer increasing labor costs onto the customers via price increase, what would the answers be? Econometricus.com looked at one of the state-level surveys in which such a question was included. The Texas Manufacturing Survey, which is conducted by the Dallas Fed, inquired among 114 Texas manufactures the following question. “If the labor costs are increasing, are you passing the costs on to customers in the way of price increases?” The survey answers were collected on August 18th through the 26th.

Here is what the study showed.

By sectors, surveyed retailers appear be the only ones prompted to transfer increasing labor costs to customers via price increase. Although very tight, 43.9 percent of the answers indicated that retailers would rise price as an outcome of increasing labor costs, whereas 41.5 would not. The Texas service sector respondents indicated that they would not do so by 54.5. Likewise, manufacturers rejected the possibility by 52.4 percent and considered positively by 35.7 percent. Below are the charts of which all used Texas Manufacturing Survey Data.

Texas Manufacturing Survey. Dallas Fed Aug. 2015.

Texas Manufacturing Survey. Dallas Fed Aug. 2015.

Although it is not feasible to extrapolate survey’s results onto the entire US economy, Texas’ has a particular significance for any current economic analysis. Indeed, Texas’ economy comprises a large share of oil related business, which is precisely the industry that brought this puzzle in the first place. Thus, it seems somewhat clear to conclude that following the Dallas survey, the economy might not be overheating currently.

Texas Manufacturing Survey. Dallas Fed Aug. 2015.

Texas Manufacturing Survey. Dallas Fed Aug. 2015.

So, what does these data tell economists about the US economy?

Although some would answer it says little because of its sample size and geographic limits, and its business size aggregation, there are some hints within the survey. First, it could be said that companies are currently absorbing the cost of growing, which might indicate that they are indeed venturing and the economy is expanding. So far so good. The concerns, though, stem from the speed of such expansion, which is hard to identify by using these data. But again, it is important to check Federal Reserve Data on industrial production and capacity utilization, which would yield some confidence against overheating. Second, although business size matters for determining whether or not increasing labor costs can be transferred to the customer via prices, the fact that retailers stand out in the survey must mean something for analysts. According to these data, retail appears to be the most sensitive sector right now; therefore, the 1.8 “core” inflation might be reflecting inflationary pressures solely generated by retailers.

Texas Manufacturing Survey. Dallas Fed Aug. 2015.

Texas Manufacturing Survey. Dallas Fed Aug. 2015.

Texas Manufacturing Survey. Dallas Fed Aug. 2015.

Texas Manufacturing Survey. Dallas Fed Aug. 2015.

Note:

The Dallas Fed conducts the Texas Manufacturing Outlook Survey monthly to obtain a timely assessment of the state’s factory activity. Data were collected Aug. 18–26, and 114 Texas manufacturers responded to the survey. Firms are asked whether output, employment, orders, prices and other indicators increased, decreased or remained unchanged over the previous month.

 

 

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