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Cost of Living Versus Inflation

One thing I have discovered when discussing inflation is that discussions very rapidly get derailed into discussions of the “cost of living.” I take a view that is conventional within market and economic discussion: inflation is a macroeconomic concept…



One thing I have discovered when discussing inflation is that discussions very rapidly get derailed into discussions of the “cost of living.” I take a view that is conventional within market and economic discussion: inflation is a macroeconomic concept, and the consumer price index is one way to measure it. However, many people view inflation as rising cost of living.

There is a link between these two ideas, but they are not the same thing. It is entirely possible that the reader might disagree with my views on the distinction, but if they are to get any value from this book at all, they need to understand what I am referring to.

For readers who are familiar with the economic theory on this topic, there is a technical concept of a “cost of living” index. I defer that discussion to a technical note since it rarely comes up in discussion outside of technical statistical discussions.

Note: This article is an extremely rough draft. I am not polishing it, as I expect that it will be re-written heavily.

Inflation as “Rising Prices”

The first variant of the cost of living perspective is to just note some prices that have risen. For example, whenever I write about inflation being low, I get comments about rising prices for listed items (food, insurance, etc.). In many cases, they ask me whether I have seen the prices of these items, ignoring the fact that I probably live in a different country from them. A variant of this is the following logic: “the price of (something) rose by 10%, how can inflation be 2%!”

The answer to this is straightforward: developed countries by and large do not control prices. (There are exceptions. For example, Quebec controls the retail price of milk.) Different prices go up and down by different percentage amounts.

Back when I was a young in the 1970s, peacetime inflation was still seen as an unusual thing. Old people were notorious for constantly making complaints of the form “Back in my day, chocolate bars were a nickel (or whatever)!” If you want to sound like an old crank and complain about individual price changes, feel free to do so. (I will probably pay as much attention to those anecdotes as I did when I was a kid.)

When we discuss inflation, we are discussing an overall price change. Individual prices can change for any number of reasons, and there may be no overall pattern. To get away from discussing anecdotes, we need to systematically measure prices – which national statistical agencies do. I discuss the limitations of inflation measures in this book, but no matter what their flaws are, they are better than picking price changes on a whim.

Falling Standard of Living

Another way of getting side-tracked is to discuss what might be termed the standard of living – how have the fortunes of an average person changed over time? A typical phrasing is something along the lines of noting that a single worker household could afford a certain lifestyle at some point in the past.
The problem with this angle is that it ends up mixing up two sets of prices: the prices of goods and services workers buy, and the price of hiring workers (wages and salaries).

To see the problem with this, let us imagine what happens if the prices of all goods and services rise by 2% per year.
  • If workers’ wages do not rise over time (0% wage inflation), then they can buy 2% less goods every year. Over time, that would represent a serious loss of purchasing power.
  • If workers’ wages rise at 3% per year, then they can buy 1% more stuff every year. Their standard of living is rising.
As we can see, workers can have a rising or falling standard of living at the same rate of inflation of the prices of goods and services. What matters for their standard of living is whether their wages are rising faster or slower than the prices of what they buy.

Whether or not wages rise faster or slower than the prices of goods and services depends upon their bargaining power of firms, as well as institutional factors (minimum wage rate setting, etc.). To what extent workers’ standard of living has fallen behind in recent decades, we need to look at the overall structure of capitalist society. This is a complicated question – and the answers may depend upon the country. In any event, trying to pin the blame on “inflation” is just a way to deflect attention away from policy failures. (From my perspective, I think the living standards story is more mixed than many critics suggest.)

Tied to this logic are complaints about house prices leading to a falling standard of living. I discuss this in Section 4.2. To quickly summarise my points, it is unsurprising that shelter costs (especially house prices) have risen faster than other prices. How we might measure this is a tricky question.

Completely Random Anecdote

Before I go further, I just want to offer a personal anecdote that outlines the difficulties involved in personal definitions of the standard of living.

Starting 2013, I moved to work part-time (writing and consulting). This gave me more time to spend shopping, and looking at the living expenses of my family. I have not bothered to calculate a personalised inflation rate, but I believe it is safe to say that our expenses rose less than whatever Statistics Canada said was the rise in the CPI in Quebec during that period.

One common reaction to my earlier writing about inflation is that the official statistics that I use do not reflect the personal situation of the person commenting, and they have the air of being offended by this. However, if we use personal experience as the benchmark, why cannot I be offended by suggestions that the "true" inflation rate is higher than CPI inflation in Canada?

Since not everyone's personal experiences are the same, it is not safe to make generalisations from them.

Cost of Living

The previous notions of “inflation” (anecdotes about rising prices, looking at the purchasing power of average wages) come up, but in my view, easily seen as being distractions. However, there is an alternative way of viewing inflation – as the cost of living – which cannot be easily dismissed.

I will first note that economists have a technical definition of a “cost of living index” that I am deferring to a technical appendix. I am interested in a looser definition that is probably closer to how non-economists might think about this. The two versions overlap, but the looser definition results in something that is harder to measure.

I would attempt to describe a notion of the cost of living as follows: how much does it cost to achieve a certain lifestyle (standard of living)? We can then see how much that cost changes over time. We might even make the definition fuzzier and look at the basket of goods and services that could be purchased by a worker of a certain type. (Note that my proposed definition has problems, but I am trying to best capture views that I see other people make.)

If the world were simple, this definition might be adequate. If we assumed that all goods and services feature price changes that are all the same, we could then look at a basket of purchases, and see how much the cost of that basket changes.

Unfortunately, the world is not simple.
  • Not all prices change by the same amount.
  • The goods and services that are available for sale change over time. New products appear, and some disappear. (Good luck finding whale bone corsets for sale.)
  • If we try to define the standard of living relative to worker’s salaries, any number of things can change. Different classes of workers see different rates of income growth. Also, tax rates can change, implying changes to after-tax purchasing power.
We will now look at the problems posed by the ambiguity of this definition.

Consumption Basket Changes Over Time

Most complaints about a falling standard of living use a reference period that is decades in the past. (This is particularly true for young people who wish to blame “boomers” for high shelter costs.) The problem is that the consumption basket changes over time, as does what constitutes “middle class” (or whatever the target demographic is).

The most obvious case is telecommunications services. Growing up in Winnipeg in the 1970s, the typical “middle class” expenditure would have been only on a primary land line (cable television was a bit of a luxury until the 1980s, but other areas of North America may have had cable rollouts earlier). In 2021, cable has reverted to a luxury (and possibly land lines), while cellular phones, data plans, internet, and streaming services are all viewed as middle class necessities.

As someone who is concerned about resource depletion (“Peak Oil”), I would argue that developed country lifestyles will change due to those constraints, and so we cannot pick some desired consumption patterns and expect them to be around forever.

Relative Price Changes

Even if we look at shorter time scales, we still run into the problem that not all prices change by the same amount.

For example, the COVID-19 pandemic that hit the world in 2020 disrupted the meat processing industry. When I go shopping, chicken and beef are considerably more expensive than they were before the pandemic, while the rise in pork prices was more moderate. The obvious reaction is to have more vegetarian meals and eat more pork. This then raises the question: how much did my “standard of living rise”? 
  • How much would it have cost if I kept my buying habits unchanged by the price rise?
  • How much my spending actually rose, keeping in mind that I switched away from chicken and beef?
The people who want to complain about inflation will chose the first option – which implies the highest rate of inflation. But that is ignoring the story how capitalism is supposed to work: price changes can signal a shortage of goods, pushing consumers towards other products. (For those of my readers who are fans of economic arguments, I just want to note that the previous statement might generate controversy – a controversy I am not interested in discussing here.)

Pretending that purchasing habits never change contradicts the reality that “middle class” consumption patterns indeed do change, as discussed earlier.

It should be noted that how to account for relative price shifts is the major problem faced by statisticians trying to construct price indices. There is no obviously “correct” answer.

Structural Changes

The last problem faced by vague “standard of living” concepts is that the structure of the economy changes, and these changes affect lifestyles.

Comparing Canada and the United States since the 1930s offers a good example. Until the 1930s, the two countries had somewhat similar situations, particularly in the west, which were opened by settlers forcing the indigenous population out of the way at roughly the same time. (The eastern parts of North America had a slower settlement process.)

Although both countries created welfare states in response to the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Canadian model was more expansive. Canada effectively socialised non-elective health case, and heavily subsidised university education.

This then raises difficulties in comparing the “standard of living” between the two countries. Canadian tax rates are generally higher, but people are not driven into bankruptcy by emergency health care costs. Although Canadians can be stuck with student debt, the debt loads are effectively smaller than the United States.

As such, we see that government policies can restructure spending habits. How would we measure the change of the “standard of living” if the United States restructured its health care system to follow the Canadian model?

Concluding Remarks

Individuals can track their own expenses and have a feeling for how their “cost of living” has changed. The problem is that this cost of living concept is vague, and different people have different experiences.
When economists and market participants discuss the economy, they need a firmer definition of inflation that they have at least a chance of measuring. Those inflation numbers might not be perfect, but they offer something concrete to point to. However, it must be understood that the changes to the CPI may not reflect an individual’s personal experience – and nobody who understands the CPI construct would insist that this is the case.

Technical Appendix: Cost of Living Indices

(Not done yet.)

(c) Brian Romanchuk 2021

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August Monthly

Fear that the spread of the Delta mutation of the covid would disrupt the global economy spurred the unwinding of risk-on positions. Interest rates fell, and the traditional funding currencies:  the US dollar, Swiss franc, and Japanese yen, strengthened..



Fear that the spread of the Delta mutation of the covid would disrupt the global economy spurred the unwinding of risk-on positions. Interest rates fell, and the traditional funding currencies:  the US dollar, Swiss franc, and Japanese yen, strengthened most in July. While major US indices set new record highs, as did Europe's Dow Jones Stoxx 600, the MSCI Emerging Markets Equity Index fell 7%.

The preliminary July PMI reports were below expectations in the US, UK, and France.  Japan's composite PMI has been contracting since February 2020.  There has been some re-introduction of social restrictions in parts of Europe.  The UK's "Freedom Day" (July 19), when mask requirements and social restrictions were supposed to be dropped, turned into a caricature as the Prime Minister and Health Minister were in self-quarantine due to exposure, and the number of cases reached the highest level in 5-6 months. 

Given the large number of people in the world that remain unvaccinated, the challenge is that the virus will continue to mutate.  Moreover, even in high-income countries, where vaccines are readily available, and stockpiles exist,  a  substantial minority refuse to be inoculated. This is encouraging the use of more forceful incentives that deny the non-vaccinated access to some social activity in parts of the US and Europe.  In the US, the vaccines have been approved for emergency use only, and broader approval by the FDA could help ease some of the vaccine hesitancy.  Yet, rushing the process would be self-defeating.  An announcement still seems to be at least a couple of months away.  

In some countries, the surge in the virus even where not leading to hospitalizations and fatalities, maybe tempering activity and postponing more "normalization" like returning to offices.   The increase in the contagion has also prompted several companies to postpone plans to have employees return to offices. In other countries, like Australia, the virus and social restrictions are having a more dramatic economic impact.  Its preliminary July PMI crashed to 45.2 from 56.7, the lowest since last May.  Although many countries in East Asia seemed to do well with the initial wave, they have been hard hit by the new mutations.  For some, the recovery already had appeared to be in advanced stages.  

Floods in China, India, Germany, and Belgium add to the economic angst.    A freeze in Brazil sent coffee prices percolating higher.  Wildfires in Canada stopped the downside correction in lumber prices.  While rebuilding is stimulative, in the first instance, the natural disasters could be inflationary as transportation and distribution networks are impacted. 

The market reacted by pushing down nominal and real interest rates.  In late July, the US 10-year inflation-protected note yield (real rate) fell to a record low near minus 1.13%  Ten-year benchmark yields in the US, Europe, Australia, and China were at 4-5 month lows.  Expectations for rate hikes by high-income countries eased, and Beijing surprised investors by cutting reserve requirements by 50 bp (freed up ~$150 bln of liquidity).   

Still, other central banks, like Russia who hiked rates by 100 bp in late July, are pushing forward.  In Latin America, Brazil, Mexico, and Chile are likely candidates for rate hikes in August.  The market anticipates additional rates hikes from the Czech Republic and Hungary.  On the other hand, Turkey's central bank meets under much political pressure to cut rates.  Inflation is not cooperating, and it reached 17.5% in June,  a new two-year high.  Yet, the Turkish lira downside momentum eased, and this alone, in the face of a stronger dollar, meant it was the best performing emerging market currency last month, up about 3.0%.  Its 12% loss year-to-date still makes it the second-worst performing emerging market currency so far this year, behind the Argentine peso's nearly 13% decline.  

The Federal Reserve does not meet in August, but the Jackson Hole symposium (August 26-28) may offer a window into official thinking about the pace and composition of its bond purchases.  Under that scenario, a more formal statement would be provided at the end of the September FOMC meeting (September 21-22). Chair Powell has pledged to give ample notice about its plans to taper.  This means that the initial timing of the beginning of the tapering may be vague by necessity.  Many expect the Fed to begin reducing its bond purchases either later this year or early next year.  

The debt ceiling debate may add another wrinkle.  The debt ceiling waiver expired at the end of July.  There are several different ways that Treasury can buy time.  There are many moving parts, and it is hard to know exactly when Secretary Yellen would run out of maneuvers, but she probably has around two months.  In the past, the uncertainty was reflected in some T-bill sales.  Recall it was the debate over the debt ceiling (the government has already made the commitments or spent the funds and now has to pay for them) that prompted S&P to remove its AAA rating for the US in 2011. 

Meanwhile, Beijing is waging an internal battle to retain control in the technology and payments space.  It has also stepped up its antitrust actions and moved to make it more difficult for internet companies to have IPOs abroad. At the same time, the US threatens to de-list foreign (Chinese) companies if they refuse to allow US regulators to review their financial audits.  This is more than quitting before getting fired, though at the end of July the US announced that concerns over risk disclosures have prompt it to freeze applications for Chinese IPOs and the sale of other securities.  Its efforts to turn the private schools into non-for-profits are driven by Beijing's domestic considerations, but foreign investors--hedge funds, a couple US state pension funds, and provincial pensions in Canada appear to have been collateral damage.  Even the Monetary Authority of Singapore had exposure.

The jump in Chinese yields and the drop in equities that pushed the CSI 300 (an index of large companies listed on the Shanghai and Shenzhen exchanges) 21% below the February peak prompted some remedial measures by officials.  They succeeded in steadying the bonds and stock markets, and the yuan recovered from three-month lows as July wound down. However, both the disruption and the salve, the selling of industrial metals, coal, and oil from its strategic reserves, demonstrate the activist state that gives foreign investors reservations about increasing allocations to China.  To draw foreign capital, officials may be tempted to engineer or facility a strong recovery in shares and the yuan.  

Beijing is also meeting resistance from abroad.  Its aggressiveness in the region, including the aerial harassment of Taiwan and rejection of the Arbitration Tribunal at the Hague regarding the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (that pushed back against Chinese claims in the South and East China Seas). Over the past few weeks, the situation has escalated. The UK announced it will station two naval vessels in the area.  Japan has promised to defend Taiwan should it be attacked by China.  The US has not been that unequivocal.   The EU has been emboldened.  Latvia became the first EU member to open a representative office of "Taiwan" instead of Taipei.  

Many wargame scenarios are premised on China attacking Taiwan, but this does not seem to be the most likely scenario. Top US military officials have testified before Congress that Beijing wants to have the ability to invade and hold Taiwan within six years based on comments from President Xi to the People's Liberation Army.  Yet, if China senses that the status of Taiwan is truly changing, it could move against the Pratas Island, which is off the east coast of China and the south tip of Taiwan.  It is closer to Hong Kong than Taiwan.  It is an uninhabited atoll with a garrison.  Taking this island would send a signal about its determination, with the costs and risks of invading Taiwan. It is true to the ancient Chinese idiom about killing a chicken scares the monkeys.  

Bannockburn's World Currency Index, a GDP-weighted basket of the top dozen economies, rose fractionally after falling 1% in June.  The two largest components after the dollar are the euro and yuan.  The former slipped by was virtually flat near $1.1860 and the latter softened by less than 0.1 %.  The yen, with about a 7.3% weighting in the basket, was the strongest, gaining about 1.25% against the US dollar.  Sterling was almost eked a 0.5% gain.  The Indian rupee slipped 0.1%, while Brazil's real was the weakest currency in the index, falling by about 4.6% in July.   

The BWCI rose by 6.5% in the last nine months of 2020 after falling by 3.2% in Q1 20 as the pandemic struck and structural dollar shorts and safe-haven flows favored the dollar.  It fell by 1.5% in Q1 21 as if correcting the previous advance.  It rose by 1.1% in Q1.  More so than bilateral exchange rates, the BWCI gives the impression that broadly speaking the dollar's losses from last year are being consolidated more than reversed. 

Dollar:  The greenback's two-month uptrend stalled in the second half of July, sending the momentum traders and late longs to the sidelines. The dollar's pullback had already begun before the FOMC meeting at which the Fed lent support to priors about a tapering announcement in the coming months.  The next opportunity is in late August. The weaker dollar tone that we expect to carry into August could create the conditions that make a short-covering bounce ahead of the Jackson Hole symposium more likely.  Some assistance,  like the moratorium on evictions, ended on July 31, and others, like the federal emergency unemployment compensation (where states continue to participate), are finishing in early September. Meanwhile, the Biden administration appears to see some of its infrastructure initiative approved in a bipartisan way and the other part through a reconciliation mechanism that it can do if there is unanimous support from the Senate Democrats.  Inflation remains elevated, and Treasury Secretary Yellen and Federal Reserve Chair Powell warned it may remain so for several more months but still expect the pressure to subside.  The price components of the PMI have eased in the last two reports. There appears to have been some normalization in used car inventories that also reduce the pressure emanating from the one item alone that has accounted for about a third of the monthly increase of late.  

Euro:   The leg lower that began in late May from around $1.2265 extended more than we had expected and did not find support until it approached $1.1750 in the second half of July.  A trough appears to have been forged, and the euro finished near the month's highs.  Technical indicators favor a further recovery in August.  Overcoming the band of resistance in the $1.1950-$1.2000 shift the focus back to the highs.  The low for longer stance by the ECB may be bullish for European stocks and bonds.  The Dow Jones Stoxx 600 reached new record highs in late July.   Bond prices are near their highest levels since February-March.  The IMF raised its 2021 growth forecast for the euro area to 4.6%from the 4.3% projection in April and 4.3% next year from 3.8%.  The economy seemed to be accelerating in Q3, but the contagion and new social restrictions may slow the momentum.  Inflation is elevated about the ECB's new symmetrical 2% inflation target, but it pre-emptively indicated it would resist the temptation of prematurely tightening financial conditions.  The debate at the ECB does not seem about near-term policy as much as the commitment and thresholds for future action.  


(July 30,  indicative closing prices, previous in parentheses)


Spot: $1.1870 ($1.1860)

Median Bloomberg One-month Forecast $1.1885 ($1.1950) 

One-month forward  $1.1880 ($1.1865)    One-month implied vol  5.3%  (5.6%)    



Japanese Yen: The correlation of the exchange rate with the 10-year US yield is at its highest level in a little more than a year (~0.65, 60-day rolling correlation at the level of differences).  The correlation of equities (S&P 500) and the exchange rate is in the unusual situation of being inverse since early this year.  In early July, it was the most inverse (~-0.34) in nine years but recovered to finish the month almost flat. The yen rose by about 1.4% in July, offsetting the June decline of the same magnitude. Its 5.7% loss year-to-date is the most among the major currencies and the second weakest in the region after the Thai Baht's nearly 9% loss. The JPY110.60-JPY110.70 represents a near-term cap. The JPY109.00 area should offer support, and a break would target JPY108.25-JPY108.50.   The extension of social restrictions in the face of rising covid cases is delaying the anticipated second-half recovery.  The preliminary composite PMI fell to a six-month low in July of 47.7.  


Spot: JPY109.85 (JPY111.10)      

Median Bloomberg One-month Forecast JPY109.85 (JPY110.70)     

One-month forward JPY109.80 (JPY111.05)    One-month implied vol  5.4% (5.4%)  



British Pound:  Sterling reversed lower after recording a three-year high on June 1 near $1.4250 and did not look back.  It dipped briefly below $1.38 for the first time since mid-April on the back of the hawkish Fed on June 16 to finish July at new highs for the month and above the downtrend line off the early June highs.   A convincing move back above $1.40 would confirm a low is in place and a resumption of the bull move, for which we target $1.4350-$1.4375 in Q4.  The postponement of the economy-wide re-opening until the middle of July, and a central bank looking past the uptick in CPI above the 2% medium-term target, weighed on sentiment.  The central bank will update its economic forecasts in August, and both growth and inflation projections likely will be raised. The furlough program ends in September, and it may take a few months for a clear picture of the labor market to emerge.  Nevertheless, the market has begun pricing in a rate hike for H1 22.  


Spot: $1.3905 ($1.3830)   

Median Bloomberg One-month Forecast $1.3930 ($1.3930) 

One-month forward $1.3910 ($1.3835)   One-month implied vol 6.6% (6.5%)



Canadian Dollar:  The Canadian dollar reached its best level in six years in early June (~$0.8333 or CAD1.20) but has trended lower amid profit-taking and the broad gains in the US dollar.  The usual drivers of the exchange rate:  risk appetites, commodities, and rate differentials were not helpful guides recently.  Canada has become among the most vaccinated countries, and the central bank was sufficiently confident in the economic outlook to continue to slow its bond purchases at the July meeting despite losing full-time positions each month in Q2. Speculators in the futures market have slashed the net long position from nearly 50k contracts (each CAD100k) to less than 13k contracts in late July.  The downside correction in the Canadian dollar appears to have largely run its course, and we anticipate a better August after the heavier performance in July.  Our initial target is around CAD1.2250-CAD1.2300.  


Spot: CAD1.2475 (CAD 1.2400) 

Median Bloomberg One-month Forecast  CAD1.2435 (CAD1.2325)

One-month forward CAD1.2480 (CAD1.2405)    One-month implied vol  6.8%  (6.5%) 



Australian Dollar:  Since peaking in late February slightly above $0.8000, the Australian dollar has trended lower and by in late July briefly dipped below $0.7300, posting a nearly 9% loss over the past five months. The 50-day moving average ~$0.7570) fell below the 200-day moving average (~$0.7600) for the first time since June 2020, illustrating the downtrend after the strong recovery from the low near $0.5500 when the pandemic first stuck.  The combination of a low vaccination rate and the highly contagious Delta variant forced new extended lockdowns for Sydney and social restrictions that have sapped the economy's strength.  It will likely slow the central bank's exit from the extraordinary emergency measures.  Indeed, the Reserve Bank of Australia is likely to boost its weekly bond-buying from A$5 bln to at least A$6 bln.  A convincing break of $0.7300 could open the door for a return toward $0.7000, but we suspect the five-month downtrend is over and anticipate a recovery toward $0.7550 over the next several weeks.  


Spot:  $0.7345 ($0.7495)       

Median Bloomberg One-Month Forecast $0.7425 ($0.7610)     

One-month forward  $0.7350 ($0.7500)     One-month implied vol 8.9  (8.5%)   



Mexican Peso:  The dollar chopped higher against the peso in July and reached a high near MXN20.25 on July 21. It trended lower and, in late July, fell below the seven-week trendline support near MXN19.90.  After finishing June less than 0.1% weaker, the greenback lost about 0.4% against the peso in July, which was the fifth consecutive month without a gain.  The other notable LATAM currencies were the weakest three emerging market currencies (Chilean peso ~-4.1%, Colombian peso ~-4%, and the Brazilian real ~-3.8%).  If the upper end of the dollar's range has held,  a break of MXN19.80 may warn a test on the lower end of the range (~MXN19.50-MXN19.60).  The 5.75% year-over-year CPI for the first half of July and the highest core inflation for early July in more than 20-years keep expectations for another rate hike intact when Banxico meets on August 12.  The market has another hike priced in for the September 30 meeting as well.  The dispute with the US over measuring domestic content for auto production under USMCA could undermine Mexico's role in the continental division of labor, but instead, producers in Mexico may choose to pay the WTO auto tariff standard of 2.5%.  The IMF's latest economic forecasts revised the projection for Mexican growth this year to 6.3% from the April projection of 5%.  


Spot: MXN19.87 (MXN19.95)  

Median Bloomberg One-Month Forecast  MXN19.94 (MXN19.97)  

One-month forward  MXN19.95 (MXN20.02)     One-month implied vol 10.5% (10.7%)



Chinese Yuan: The dollar spent most of July within the trading range that had emerged in late June found roughly between CNY6.45 and CNY6.4950. The range was maintained even after the PBOC unexpectedly cut reserve requirements by 50 bp (announced July 9). However, Beijing's more aggressive enforcement of antitrust, discouragement IPOs abroad, making private education non-for-profit without foreign investment triggered sales of Chinese shares. It helped lift the dollar in late July to around CNY6.5150, its highest level in three months and just shy of the 200-day moving average.  The pursuit of domestic policy objectives appears to be putting at risk strategic goals.  A drying up of capital inflows from spooked foreign investors may have slow efforts to liberalize capital outflows that could eventually lead to making the yuan convertible.  At the same time, China's actions give a timely example of what holds the yuan back from a significant role in the world economy and why a technology solution (e.g., digital yuan) will not suffice.  As the dollar briefly traded above the upper end of its recent range in July, the risk is that it slips through the lower-end range, which could spur a move toward CNY6.40.  


Spot: CNY6.4615 (CNY6.4570)

Median Bloomberg One-month Forecast  CNY6.4555 (CNY6.4360) 

One-month forward CNY6.4780 (CNY6.4815)    One-month implied vol  4.0% (4.7%)



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Black women face a persistent pay gap, including in essential occupations during the pandemic

This year, Black Women’s Equal Pay Day arrives 10 days earlier than in 2020 (August 13). If this seems inconsistent with current realities, it is.



This year, Black Women’s Equal Pay Day arrives 10 days earlier than in 2020 (August 13). If this seems inconsistent with current realities, it is. That’s because the August 3, 2021 date is based on the comparison of median annual earnings for full-time, year-round workers reported in the 2020 Annual Social and Economic Supplement of the Current Population Survey (CPS). Since the reference year in that survey is the previous year—2019—the earlier date is more a statement about pay equity during the pre-COVID period of historically low unemployment than the impact of the pandemic. 

Based on hourly wages available for 2020, the pandemic’s effect on pay inequality in 2020 is challenging to interpret since job losses were concentrated among low-wage occupations, which has the effect of skewing the distribution toward a higher average that is less representative of the workforce as a whole. These lower-paying jobs were concentrated in leisure and hospitality and education and health services—industries that employ a disproportionate share of women.

In fact, the pandemic’s effect on pay equity during 2020 is less about a relative difference in dollars per hour and more a matter of a disproportionate share of women—and Black women in particular—becoming unemployed and thus wageless. Nearly 1 in 5 Black women (18.3%) lost their jobs between February 2020 and April 2020, compared with 13.2% of white men (see figure below). As of June 2021, Black women’s employment was still 5.1 percentage points below February 2020 levels, while white men were down 3.7 percentage points.

The fact that we are talking about this every year reflects the stubborn, structural nature of pay inequities which is manifold. Occupational segregation limits Black women’s access to higher-paying occupations. But, even when employed in the same occupation, pay discrimination results in lower earnings for women relative to men, including among essential workers as we show below. The lack of a national paid leave policy means that women are more likely to take unpaid time out of the workforce and have breaks in their work and earnings history. The combination of these factors means that, on average, women start their careers with a pay gap that they are never able to close.

The infographics below take a closer look at average hourly earnings of Black women and non-Hispanic white men employed in major occupations at the center of national efforts to address the public health and economic effects of COVID-19, based on our previous analysis of CPS microdata from 2014-2019. These occupations include front-line workers in health care and essential businesses like grocery stores, those who have borne the brunt of job losses in the restaurant industry, and teachers and child care workers. As these figures show, equal pay for Black women workers is long overdue.

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If Hospitalizations Lead Fatalities: Prospects for Florida

With large shares of populations vaccinated, case counts are no longer a good predictor of fatalities arising from Covid-19. Hospitalization might prove better (and ICU hospitalizations even better). The statistics do not augur well, particularly for…



With large shares of populations vaccinated, case counts are no longer a good predictor of fatalities arising from Covid-19. Hospitalization might prove better (and ICU hospitalizations even better). The statistics do not augur well, particularly for Florida.

Source: GS CovidTracker, August 2, 2021.

Obviously, Florida remains a big problem when you consider its 21 million population, and that it accounts for 5.1% of US GDP (as of 2019Q4). For comparison, California, as the economically largest state, accounted 14.8%.

Here is IHME’s latest fatalities forecasts, from July 30.

Source: IHME, July 30th forecast.

The IHME forecast presented above was not include in the July 26th CDC ensemble forecast. At the time of the CDC ensemble forecast compilation, IHME’s forecast was above the ensemble forecast, but not at the very top.

Source: CDC, July 26 ensemble forecast.

Since it’s hard to see, here’s a detail.

Source: CDC, July 26 ensemble forecast.

The IHME forecast available as of 7/26 was for about 1000 fatalities per week, compared to the ensemble forecast of a bit below 600. The IHME forecast was at the top of the 95% band. A new ensemble forecast should be released on 8/4.

It’s clear why Mr. De Santis wants to avoid the specter of Covid-19. The late summer and winter waves clearly slowed Florida’s recovery. Rising deaths might spur — if not additional public health measures such as mask mandates that the governor has banned — then increasing aversion by those who perceive risks associated with going about business as usual.

Figure 1: Florida Reported deaths due to Covid-19 (black, left log scale), nonfarm payroll employment, in 000’s, s.a. (teal, right log scale).  NBER defined recession dates shaded gray. July observation for deaths is IHME forecast.  Source: IHME, BLS, NBER, and author’s calculations.

I expect risk aversion to induce a reduction in consumption of high contact services. If mask mandates and other public health measures were imposed, that might lead to a greater short term reduction in economic output (although in the long run, total hours might be higher, as in the Eichenbaum pandemic/output model).

Any lessons to be gleaned from the past episodes? The employment losses thus far can be decomposed into two groups — the high contact services associated with leisure and hospitality services, and everything else covered in nonfarm payroll employment.

Figure 2: Florida employment relative to 2020M02 in leisure and hospitality services (blue bars), and in rest-of-nonfarm payroll employment (tan bars), in 000’s, s.a.  Source: BLS, and author’s calculations.

You can see that leisure and hospitality employment recovery stalls out in July-August 2020, and January 2021. If the rise in deaths occurs as forecasted in Figure 1, then

All this takes place in the context of already slowing growth, as far as we can tell (these indicators run only through June).

Figure 3: Florida Coincident index (black), real GDP (purple), and nonfarm payroll employment (teal), all in logs, 2019Q4=0. NBER defined recession dates shaded gray. Quarterly data for coincident index, employment converted from monthly to quarterly by averaging. Source: Philadelphia Fed, BEA, BLS, NBER, and author’s calculations.






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