Blog Post

The inflation basket case

Inflation in the euro area has finally reached 2%. But Draghi is right to warn that the underlying dynamics do not point to this being a self-sustaining trend. Breaking down the numbers shows that many inflation basket items are still showing weak price growth or even deflation.

By: Date: March 17, 2017 Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance

Last week, the European Central Bank left interest rates and its quantitative easing programme unchanged. The decision came as February’s inflation for the euro area reached 2% for the first time since 2013, with German inflation slightly above that level.

ECB President Draghi highlighted that there are no signs yet of a convincing upward trend in underlying inflation. Indeed, this stands out clearly if we look more in detail at the composition of the basket. Figure 1 shows the headline and core inflation rates for the euro area, together with the share of items in the Harmonised Consumer Price Index (CPI) basket that have experienced inflation rates below 1 and below zero. While the headline inflation rate for the EA has increased from 0.6% in November 2016 to 1.8% in January 2017 and 2% in February, the percentage of items that are in deflation has remained relatively high. As of February 2017, 21.3% of the EA HCPI basket was in deflation (up from 20.2% in January) and 47% of items experienced price growth below 1%.

Source: Bruegel based on Eurostat

Figure 1

As always, the situation differs markedly at the individual country level. Three countries – Greece, Ireland and Cyprus – have more than 40% of their HICP basket in deflation, while eight more countries have had negative inflation on more than 25% of the basket. Germany, Belgium and Austria are the only countries where less than 20% of the HICP basket is in deflation (Figure 2, see also Table 1 at the end).

The increase in the headline inflation appears to be mostly driven by a surge in energy and vegetable prices. At the EA level, the rate of inflation for liquid fuels turned from -5.4% in November 2016 to +30% in January 2017, i.e. an increase of 35.6 percentage points. To the extent that market-based inflation expectations have a tendency to react strongly to changes in oil prices, the assessment in this moment should be cautious.

At the same time, inflation for vegetables went from -0.7% to +16.2% over the same period. In Germany between November 2016 and February 2017 liquid fuel price inflation increased by 32.2 percentage points and vegetable price inflation increased by as much as 23 percentage points. The latter phenomenon seems to be related to a supply shortage, due to the bad weather conditions in Italy and Spain.

As a result of these two developments, headline HICP inflation spiked during the last three months, while the core inflation rate – which excludes fuels and unprocessed food – remained flat at around 1%.

Importantly, the share of the HICP basket in deflation is not decreasing equally across countries. Table 1 shows that some countries – such as Spain, Slovenia and to some extent Germany – saw a dramatic reduction in the share of their HICP basket that is in deflation since the beginning of QE in 2015. In other countries, however, the improvement has been slow. In France, 29% of the HICP basket recorded negative inflation in February 2017, as opposed to 33% in January 2015. So the decrease has been much less pronounced. In Malta, the percentage of the basket in deflation has actually increased.

Overall, these indicators point to the fact that it may indeed be too early to speak of a “sustained upward trend” in inflation in the euro area.

Table 1 – Country-level data on HICP inflation and % of basket in low inflation or deflation

Table 1


Republishing and referencing

Bruegel considers itself a public good and takes no institutional standpoint. Anyone is free to republish and/or quote this post without prior consent. Please provide a full reference, clearly stating Bruegel and the relevant author as the source, and include a prominent hyperlink to the original post.

View comments
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Opinion

Hong Kong should add the euro to its dollar peg

Volatility offers an opportunity for the territory to rethink its strategy. With the economy now more synchronised with China than ever before, the dollar peg may no longer provide an accurate reflection of the real value of the Hong Kong dollar.

By: Alicia García-Herrero Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: September 12, 2017
Read article More on this topic

Opinion

Europe must seize this moment of opportunity

As the EU enjoys a period of growth and relative stability, there is finally room to undertake long-needed reforms. But it is vital to act soon, and priorities must be set. There are three pillars of reform for the coming months: completing a robust euro area; building a coherent EU foreign policy; and harnessing the single market’s potential to deliver strong and inclusive growth.

By: Agnès Bénassy-Quéré, Michael Hüther, Philippe Martin and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: August 12, 2017
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

Italian economic growth and the Euro

While the Euro has frequently been blamed for the poor growth performance of Italy over the years, a long-term analysis shows deteriorating growth before the introduction of the Euro. Additionally, Italy has shown worse performance than other euro-periphery countries, such as Spain, implying deeper structural reasons for Italy’s economic malaise.

By: Francesco Papadia Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: July 26, 2017
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

The international effects of ECB’s monetary policy

What’s at stake: the literature on monetary policy spillovers is abundant of studies investigating the impact of the US Federal Reserve’s monetary policy announcements and actions on emerging market economies. More recently, economists have been investigating the effect of the ECB’s credit easing as well.

By: Silvia Merler Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: July 24, 2017
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

The forward guidance paradox

What’s at stake: the term “forward guidance” is used in economic jargon to describe central bank communications about the likely future path of policy rates. Standard monetary models imply that far future forward guidance has huge effects on current outcomes, and recent literature has been trying to reconcile this with reality.

By: Silvia Merler Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: July 10, 2017
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

Raising the inflation target: a question of robustness

In an unexpected move, the Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen has recently brought up the issue of raising the inflation target. This blog argues that an increase in inflation targets may prove to be beneficial in achieving price stability in the long run. This would increase the credibility of central banks in achieving inflation goals and stave off the distortionary effects of deflation.

By: Maria Demertzis Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: June 22, 2017
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

The Fed’s problem with inflation

What’s at stake: the Federal Reserve raised the benchmark interest rate by one-quarter of a percentage point. The moved surprised no one, but it still prompted economists to asks themselves questions about the Fed’s relationship with inflation. We review the most recent contributions.

By: Silvia Merler Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: June 19, 2017
Read article Download PDF More by this author

Policy Contribution

German Bundestag

Charting the next steps for the EU financial supervisory architecture

The combination of banking union and Brexit justifies a reform of the European Banking Authority (EBA) and the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) in the near term, in line with the subsidiarity principle and the accountability of EBA and ESMA and their scrutiny by the European Parliament should be enhanced as a key element of their governance reform.

By: Nicolas Véron Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance, Finance & Financial Regulation, German Bundestag Date: June 7, 2017
Read article More on this topic

Blog Post

We need a European Monetary Fund, but how should it work?

Many voices are calling for the ESM to be developed into a fully-fledged European Monetary Fund. But what changes would this entail, and how could the new institution be governed? The authors see both need and hope for change.

By: André Sapir and Dirk Schoenmaker Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: May 29, 2017
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

Dial N for NAIRU, or not?

What’s at stake: The concept of the NAIRU (Non-Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment) has recently divided the minds in the economic blogosphere. We review the most important contributions on its usefulness, its shortcomings, alternatives and we discuss why it is such a contested concept.

By: Pia Hüttl Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: May 22, 2017
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Opinion

Europa sinnvoll gestalten

Die Debatte um die Zukunft Europas sollte gerade in Deutschland konstruktiv geführt werden. Es profitiert von einer stabilen EU und trägt entscheidend zur Fortentwicklung Europas bei. Einer zentralen Diskussion wird man sich stellen müssen: Wie kann die Stabilität des Euroraums erhöht werden? Der hier skizzierte Ansatz wäre eine Möglichkeit für einen Kompromiss.

By: Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: May 10, 2017
Read article More on this topic More by this author

External Publication

The Banking Union: An Overview and Open Issues

Dirk Schoenmaker's chapter in 'The Palgrave Handbook of European Banking', a handbook that collates the expertise and research of leading academic and senior policy makers in the field of European banking

By: Dirk Schoenmaker Topic: Finance & Financial Regulation Date: May 2, 2017
Load more posts