The last two economic terms” deflation” and “inflation” have been in the news a lot recently. In my opinion, these two terms are not as popular as they should be right now, especially with the failure of the American Federal Reserve. As I stated in a previous article “Determining Bank Economic Times,” we have not yet had a significant rise in core inflation since peaking at approximately 3% in the early 1980's. Core inflation is an inflation measurement that takes current prices and measures them against expectations of future inflation, or what economists call the measure of long-run potential income. This measure reflects the overall level of inflation in our country.
So, let's talk about inflation for a moment. It appears that the rates of inflation we have seen in the United States over the past decade are too high. If you take a look at this recent trend, it seems as though the Bank of Canada has experienced a lower level of inflation than the United States has. This could mean that we have already entered an era of sustained inflation. At the same time, deflation suggests that the overall inflation rate in our country is too low. Which one is correct?
The answer depends on how you look at it. One thing I tend to notice is that most financial analysts, including the folks at the Bank of Canada, tend to use the term “inflation” to describe price increases in the economy. They seem to prefer the word “price increase” over “inflation.” However, if we look at the performance of our currency over the last decade, we can see that there are some currency pairs with higher inflation than others. In this light, it would seem to me that “inflation” is a better description of the current state of our economy.
In addition to using the term “inflation” to describe our current state of inflation, many people seem to use the term “deflation” to describe our current state of deflation. For example, you will often hear analysts discuss the low levels of interest rates being experienced at present. It is true that interest rates are near historical lows, but they should not be considered “deflationary” in the traditional sense of the word. It is true that over the past several years, they have been falling, but that does not mean that current real rates of interest are lower than they were a decade or even two years ago.
In fact, they have been consistently higher than the rates they were when we were in an “accommodative” monetary regime. What is really happening is that there are too many people in the country who are holding their money “safe,” i.e., they have excessive amounts of debt. And because they cannot get credit to purchase additional goods and services, they are holding their money in money market accounts instead of investing it in safe stocks and bonds. In my opinion, this has been one of the main reasons for the prolonged period of low inflation (which I mentioned above).
As I said earlier, there were many factors that can affect inflation, including the state of the overall economy, global inflation expectations, the state of business investment, the state of the real estate market, oil prices and many other factors. So it is unrealistic to claim that deflation is primarily a result of these factors. But, they do play a role in some cases. When inflation is long-term and the deflation rate is close to zero, then it is called short-term interest rate flexibility, or STFX.
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