I was not expecting to publish an article today but my knee operation planned for today was cancelled with an hour’s notice. Let me wish the trauma patients who came into Chelsea and Westminster Hospital overnight well. Returning to the economics there is a link between today’s subject of inflation and that of yesterday because inflation will be over target and of course the Bank of England choose to ease policy into an inflation rise.

The impact of higher prices on the poor

One of the issues faced by the poor is that they pay a different set of prices to the rest of us. The Joseph Rowntree Federation has looked at this and intriguingly opens with something which could have been written by me.

Reducing the cost of essential goods and services is as important as increasing incomes for reducing poverty in the UK.  The less people must spend on meeting their needs, the more cash in their pocket.

The Bank of England will be annoyed on two counts. Firstly it aims for inflation of 2% per annum and secondly the idea that what it calls non core items are important.

The JRF moves onto the problem.

New research by Bristol University has laid bare the scale of the poverty premium for the first time.  They estimate that on average the poverty premium is costing low-income households £490 per year.

We get some more details.

Some premiums seem inconsequential, such as paying an extra £5 per year for a paper copy of an electric bill because you’re not online, or find it easier to keep on top of your budget with a paper copy. Others are eye watering, such as paying £540 over the odds for a doorstep loan because you can’t access mainstream credit or an additional £120 for a payday loan.

There are various factors at play here but we know that those that are poorer tend to pay more for many products. These comes from an inability to shop around both physically and online as well as being unable to use direct debits. Some of these represent a type of exploitation but it is also true that sometimes the problems create higher costs for businesses which need to be passed on.

There have been calls at times for different inflation measures to represent different groups. What we do know is that the establishment’s choice the Consumer Price Index performs badly in this regard. This is because it is weighted and based on total spending where of course the better off are more highly represented and so this means that rather than representing the median person it tends to represent those more like two-thirds of the way up the income scale. The much maligned Retail Price Index excludes the top 4% in terms of income so performs better in this regard although it does exclude some pensioner households.

The UK establishment’s view on measuring inflation

We can see this from simply looking at the progression of UK inflation targets. First the original one.

The annual rate for RPIX, the all items RPI excluding mortgage interest payments (MIPs), is 4.1%, up from 3.9% last month.

As we note an annual inflation measure that has passed 4% we move onto the current measure.

The all items CPI annual rate is 2.9%, up from 2.6% in July.

The clear trend is downwards and let us now look at the UK statistical establishment’s favourite measure.

The all items CPIH annual rate is 2.7%, up from 2.6% in July.

Of course the reality of price rises and inflation does not change but at the current rate the inflation reality of now will perhaps be accompanied by an official inflation measure at 0% in a few decades.

A major factor

Treatment of the housing market and particularly owner-occupied housing costs is at the heart of the matter. If we look at house prices we are told this by the Office for National Statistics.

Average house prices in the UK have increased by 5.1% in the year to July 2017 (unchanged from June 2017). The annual growth rate has slowed since mid-2016 but has remained broadly around 5% during 2017.

Those buying houses in the UK have seen a considerable amount of house price inflation in recent times.

The average UK house price was £226,000 in July 2017. This is £11,000 higher than in July 2016 and £2,000 higher than last month.

This compares to a pre credit crunch peak of just over £190,000 and a nadir of just under £155,000.

We are told by the UK statistics establishment that the best method in their opinion of measuring the impact of inflation on owner-occupiers of property is to use imputed rents which leads to this.

The OOH component annual rate is 1.9%, down from 2.0% last month.  ( OOH is Owner Occupiers Housing Costs).

As you can see there is something familiar at play a much lower number which is driven by the fact that rental inflation is much lower than house price inflation.

Private rental prices paid by tenants in Great Britain rose by 1.6% in the 12 months to August 2017; this is down from 1.8% in July 2017.

So yet again we find that the lower number has been selected! A particular issue here is that it is based on something which does not actually exist. Yes rents are paid by those who rent and they should go into the inflation numbers proportionately. But owner occupiers do not actually receive rent except in the calculations for the national accounts and so a statistical and economic concept replaces what is actually paid which is either the house price or the monthly mortgage repayment.

Oh and if London is a leading indicator ( which it often is) there is this to consider.

The growth rate for London (1.2%) in the 12 months to August 2017 is 0.4 percentage points below that of Great Britain.

Inflation Trends

This month saw a rise in UK inflation across the various measures and was driven by this.

Clothing and footwear, with average prices rising by 2.4% between July and August 2017 compared with a smaller rise of 1.0% between the same two months a year ago. Prices of clothing and footwear usually rise between July and August as autumn ranges start to enter the shops following the summer sales season.

So there was less of a summer sale in clothing this year and we have seen the numbers be erratic before as we move into autumn so we need to tread carefully. Also there was this.

Fuel prices rose by 1.6% between July and August 2017. This contrasts with the same period last year, when fuel prices fell by 1.3%.

Producer Prices

These give us an idea of what is coming down the inflation chain and there was a rise here too reversing recent trends.

Factory gate prices (output prices) rose 3.4% on the year to August 2017, up from 3.2% in July 2017, with the change in the rate being driven mainly by petroleum products. Prices for materials and fuels (input prices) rose 7.6% on the year to August 2017, up from 6.2% in July 2017, with the change in the rate being driven mainly by crude oil.

Comment

Today’s reversal on the inflation front follows a month were there was better news. Not only were the annual consumer inflation  numbers higher today but the producer ones were too. Some care is needed however as it was issue with the measurement of clothing prices and inflation back in 2010 which kicked off a lot of the debate around UK inflation methodology. Actually the issues there are still in dispute!

As to the trends there is something which may help out as we go forwards.

As many commodities including crude oil are priced in US Dollars the rise in the UK Pound £ will help us going forwards. Although of course currency movements do not always last and can turn out to be a figment of our Imagination.

Could it be that it’s just an illusion
Putting me back in all this confusion?
Could it be that it’s just an illusion now?
Could it be that it’s just an illusion
Putting me back in all this confusion?
Could it be that it’s just an illusion now?