The Inflation Tiger – Rising

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The announced inflation rate for China signaled again the emergence of inflation as a serious global economic issue.  At the moment it lies principally with large emerging market countries notably in China, India and Brazil.

The Chinese government has targeted 4 percent.  But China’s consumer prices rose at 5.4 percent on a year-on-year basis in March.  This level represents the biggest inflation jump since July 2008.

Meanwhile in India inflation rose at almost 9 percent in March after rising 8.3 percent in February.

Finally, in Brazil the consumer price benchmark rose to 6.44 percent, which is the fastest rate in 2 years.

These major emerging economies are responding with increases in interest rates.  Thus, China’s central bank announced recently its fourth increase in cash reserves for the large banks in China.  These banks must now set aside 20.5 percent  of their cash reserves representing an increase of half percent.  It is then hoped that banks in will reduce their loans to take account of the need to retain larger cash reserves.

Brazil raised its central bank rate to 12 percent representing a quarter point increase – this after two previous increases of a half percentage each.  This interest rate is the highest of any major economy.

All these emerging markets, and others, plus developing countries are experiencing significant increases in food prices as well as energy prices.  The interest rates and inflation rates appear to contrast with the traditional economies – the US core rate rose at 1.2 percent, though the CPI is at 2.7 percent and Europe with a 2.7 percent increase though this represents the highest rate in two years. This increase though significantly lower than the large emerging markets has prompted an interest rate rise by the European Central Bank.

The rising emerging market rates – have helped fuel the appreciation of their currency – the Real has risen some 40 percent since early 2009.  Yet this interest rate efforts  – to deal with inflation – have had the perverse effect of only further encouraging capita inflows precisely what the the Brazilian government, for example, has been trying to staunch since it only causes the currency to further appreciate.  China does not suffer from this vicious cycle only because its currency is managed – indeed presumably significantly undervalued – as argued by US officials and others.

Where does this leave the large emerging markets.  For China the rising inflation may encourage a more rapid appreciation of its currency. Wage and product price increases may likely follow and the virtual circle where China growth and lower pricing may come to an end.  China may well export inflation as well as goods.  India may do the same.

For Brazil there are strong voices urging that the Brazilians need to shift to their own form of managed currency (see Roberto Luis Troster’s  Feature of the Week at the Munk School Portal) to constrain the vicious cycle of inflation and interest rate hikes leading to further currency appreciation.

The Inflation Tiger is indeed dangerous.

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