“Responsible central bankers should and must be increasing interest rates in the future. They have to take care of the fact that we’re going to face more than 10% inflation in the next couple of years. ”
somehow makes his audience laugh while summarizing preliminary research on worldwide inflation and recession, data that bring some grim tidings about our global economic state of health.
By pulling favors with friends at central banks, Rigobon has gathered data on the prices of every conceivable product from dozens of nations over many years, from the clothes we wear to the cars we drive. He searches for correlations between the changes in price of major commodities, such as wheat and rice, and price changes in domestic retail items associated with them, such as bread, pasta and cookies (the latter he admits are of special concern to him). He calculates both how much the increases are and how long it takes for the price increases to occur. In a similar fashion, Rigobon has charted the international price of oil over time, and the domestic prices of oil products.
Some of Rigobon’s findings: In Chile, when the price of wheat goes up by 10%, the price of bread goes up by 5% 18 months later. In Colombia and Peru, it takes three years for this same percentage increase to occur, with these countries taking longer “to digest the international shock of commodity prices.” Not only do the prices of bread, cookies, meat, chicken, move in lockstep with wheat, but in some cases, so do housing, health and education. But Rigobon found that when the international price of oil increases, there is an immediate impact on all products related to oil. What’s worse, when the price of oil increases, the price of gas at the pump or for a rental car goes up disproportionately.
It’s been true for years, notes Rigobon, that “oil is unconditionally negatively correlated with cereals.” If oil is up, maize, sorghum and wheat prices are down. But this has recently changed, a sign “of the unique times we’re in, the policy challenges we’re facing.” We are simultaneously facing recession (due in large part to the sub-prime mortgage crisis), and inflation, in both food and oil prices. Central banks, he notes with scorn and wonderment, don’t include food and energy in their calculations of “core inflation.” If the job of these banks and government is to take care of their citizens, they must respond to this crisis along the lines of the response to 9/11 or Enron. Rigobon endorses well-communicated, transparent policies, and some tough measures like interest rate increases. /6/7/2008