NYT Gets Just About Everything Wrong In Discussing Euro Zone Inflation
|Tuesday, 27 May 2014 04:31|
A NYT piece on the problem of low inflation and weak growth facing the euro zone got just about every aspect of the issue wrong. Near the beginning the piece tells readers:
"the euro zone is at risk of sliding into deflation, a downward price spiral that can ultimately destroy corporate profits and the ability of businesses to hire."
Actually the euro zone already faces a crisis because the low inflation rate means that the real interest rate (the nominal interest rate minus the inflation rate) is much higher than would be desirable given the weakness of the euro zone's economy and the high unemployment rate. Since it is difficult to make the nominal interest rate negative, the only way to reduce the real interest rate is with a higher inflation rate.
This problem becomes worse when the inflation rate falls, however there is no particular consequence to it turning negative. In this sense, the problem is now, not some hypothetical bad scenario that could happen in the future. The notion of a "downward spiral" suggested in the piece has literally never happened in a wealthy country in the last 70 years. Even Japan, the only major country to experience a prolonged period of deflation, never experienced anything resembling a downward spiral. Its deflation rate was always modest and never exceeded minus 1.0 percent for any substantial period of time.
The idea that deflation will "destroy corporate profits and the ability of businesses to hire," is also silly. Profits have largely recovered from pre-recession levels. The concern is that lower inflation will reduce the desire to invest. If firms can anticipate that the goods and services will sell for 15 percent more in five years then they will have considerably more incentive to invest than if they anticipate that prices will be unchanged or even lower in five years.
The piece also told readers:
"A negative deposit rate would tend to push down the value of the euro against the dollar and other currencies, because investors would earn little or no return on euros. In his speech on Monday, Mr. Draghi said the increase in the euro’s value against the dollar since 2011 had driven down the price of commodities like fuel in euro terms, contributing to low inflation."
Actually the main advantage of a fall in the value of the euro is that it will make goods and servcies produced in the euro zone more competitive internationally, thereby increasing net exports and boosting demand.