Inflation no obstacle to more Fed easing

May 25, 2012

Another reason the Federal Reserve may have additional room for monetary easing: Inflation expectations fell sharply in May, according to the latest Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan survey of consumer sentiment. Inflation expectations five years out dropped to 2.7 percent in May, the lowest since January. Fed officials often say expectations are a key leading indicator of actual price increases.

Daniel Silver, economist at JP Morgan:

This level of longer-term inflation expectations is towards the bottom of the range that has been reported in recent years — 2.7% has been hit on several occasions (most recently between October 2011 and January 2012) and 2.6% was only reached back in December 2008 and March 2009, early on in the crisis period. Most other inflation measures that the Fed watches (including core PCE inflation and the 5yr-5yr breakeven inflation rate) have signaled that inflation expectations are still anchored and underlying inflation pressure is modest.

The downshift comes in the wake of inflation figures for April that also pointed to a tame price environment. This is why Eric Green at TD Securities argues “U.S. inflation favors the doves.”:

In many ways the release today is emblematic of what we expect to see on the inflation front over the next six months. That is, steady disinflation on headline prices (driven by roll over and seasonal effects from energy prices) and stable core prices. Headline inflation will fall through core next month as energy prices alone virtually ensure a gain of no more than 0.1%, probably less. As headline inflation drifts to 2.0% y/y next month (from 2.3% y/y April) and 1.8% y/y by August, the inflation metric will work in favor of the more dovish contingent on the FOMC.

Still, deflation fears, a key underpinning of the Fed’s second round of quantitative easing, are not likely to make a comback, says Green:

That does not mean we are in a period of disinflation akin to the pre-QE2 period.  Inflation will not be the cause célèbre of more accommodation, it will merely be removed as a potential obstacle among those favoring stronger growth, and truth be told, higher inflation.

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