Sunday, September 30, 2007

Not Hitting the Fan Yet

The dollar is now at a record low against the Euro, down more than 20 percent from its peak in 2002, down so low it’s about equal to a Canadian dollar.
So begins Robert Reich's blog post to which I referred on Friday. By my arithmetic the situation is even more extreme, with the dollar having lost about 40% of its value in Euros since the 2002 peak. But should the drop in the dollar between January 2002 and September 2007 really be a cause for concern in the US?

I don't see why. Most of the drop happened in 2002 and 2003, and the remainder has happened slowly over the subsequent four years, with a slight acceleration over the past few weeks. That's water under the bridge. If that drop in the dollar were going to cause inflation in the US, or to cause a drop in US real incomes, it would already have happened.

But incomes (on average) have continued to rise, and as for inflation, I think the figures in the August Personal Income and Outlays report (see Tables 9 and 11, along with historical data available here) should put to rest any immediate concern. Looking at my favorite inflation indicator, the market-based personal consumption deflator excluding food and energy, we have the following annualized (logarithmic) growth rates:

1 month 1.15%
2 months 1.34%
3 months 1.39%
6 months 1.18%
9 months 1.67%
12 months 1.61%
18 months 1.89%
2 years 1.87%
3 years 1.80%
4 years 1.70%
5 years 1.57%
6 years 1.56%

None of this suggests that inflation has yet become a problem at all. Given the presumed target of 1.5%, the recent data would even make a better case for worrying about deflation than about inflation. (Remember that food and energy prices can be quite volatile, so one shouldn't ignore the risk that, for example, a reversal in the oil market could send the full deflator quickly into negative territory.)

Though I have worried in some recent posts about the potential for a drop in the dollar to force the Fed into a stagflation regime, it needs to be emphasized that this worry is about the future and not about the present. If the s___ is going to hit the fan, this is actually a pretty good time for it to hit.

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