Monetary policy, inflation in The Monday Briefing
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In the wake of a blisteringly fast economic recovery have come bottlenecks, supply shortages and inflation. Over the summer the US Federal Reserve’s favoured measure of inflation hit the highest levels in almost 30 years. Unexpected though it is, today’s inflation surge is widely seen as temporary.
Central banks think that high inflation is a product of the exceptional circumstances of the pandemic. There’s plenty of room to argue about timing and the eventual peak, but most forecasters agree that inflation will subside through next year.
But what if they’re wrong, and inflation breaks far above expectations, much as growth took leave of any imaginable forecast last year? It wouldn’t be the first time financial markets and economists have been badly wrongfooted.
The dislocation between supply and demand created by the pandemic is starting to weigh on the recovery. Growth is being held back by supply problems, labour shortages and rising prices. Along with the effects of the Delta variant, such supply issues led to a sharp drop in China’s Caixin index of service activity in August, leaving the sector contracting for the first time since COVID-19 hit early last year. In the US Friday’s payroll data, one of the most important economic releases of the month, came in far below market expectations. Respondents to the UK manufacturing PMI index blamed shortages of materials, shipping capacity and staff for decelerating output growth in August.
The V-shaped recovery from the pandemic has brought with it supply shortages and rising prices. From semiconductors to McDonalds milkshakes, stories of shortages abound.
Economic shocks tend to hold back house prices. But one of this pandemic’s peculiarities has been how it has supported housing markets. Despite bringing about the sharpest downturn in almost a century, the pandemic has fuelled a housing boom in the developed world.
Our summer quiz offers an eclectic test of knowledge, of pandemic-related developments, many in economics and business. The answers and a brief explanation of the factors at work are at the end of the quiz.
You may not have been able to get to your preferred holiday haunt this year, but we hope that our summer reading list will offer a distraction wherever you spend your summer break. The eight articles are available free online, although some websites restrict the number of articles that can be accessed without charge each month.
The S&P 500 closed on Friday at a new all-time high. Since last year’s pandemic-induced crash, the index has almost doubled in value, reflecting a surprising feature of the COVID-hit global economy – buoyant equities. Indeed, stocks have rallied since last March, when the global economy was on the verge of the deepest downturn in more than a century. So far, investors have shrugged off a deadlier second wave, further lockdowns, the more transmissible Alpha and Delta variants and, most recently, concerns over rising inflation.
Throughout history economies have been shaped by shocks, from recessions to technological shifts and energy transitions. The Great Depression helped change thinking about the role of government, paving the way for a permanent expansion in the state. The switch from steam power to electricity triggered a vast reorganisation of manufacturing.
Sentiment in financial markets changes quickly. The big worry for most of the last year has been about collapsing growth and falling prices. Now markets are fretting about inflation. Such fears were behind the sharp sell-off in US equities in the early part of last week.
The emergence of a novel respiratory disease in late 2019 in Hubei province marked the start of what was to become a global pandemic. While the first recorded cases were in China, China has suffered a remarkably low death rate and has avoided the deep recessions that have befallen the rest of the world.