The massive jobs shortage will keep stronger inflation temporary, Goldman Sachs says

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People seeking employment speak to recruiters at the 25th annual Central Florida Employment Council Job Fair at the Central Florida Fairgrounds.

  • Stronger inflation will soon fade as millions of Americans rush back to work, Goldman Sachs said.
  • Labor supply will rebound as virus fears fade and enhanced unemployment benefits lapse, the bank said.
  • Ending the labor shortage should cool wage inflation, and price inflation will also likely be temporary, Goldman added.
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When it comes to the inflation debate looming over the US economy, Goldman Sachs is on the side of the Federal Reserve and the Biden administration.

Gauges of nationwide price growth are surging at their fastest rate in more than a decade, sparking concerns of an overheating economy ending the recovery early. Republicans and some moderate Democrats have blamed the Fed’s ultra-easy policy stance and unprecedented fiscal stimulus for the inflation overshoot. The Biden administration and the central bank have instead argued the stronger price growth is temporary and fade starting next year.

Goldman economists led by Jan Hatzius reiterated their stance on the Biden side on Monday, citing the latest jobs numbers as supporting evidence. The US added 559,000 nonfarm payrolls in May, missing the median estimate but still a sharp rebound from the dismal April report. Wages shot higher for a second straight month, signaling inflation was picking up in pay and pricing.

The combination of soaring wages and stronger inflation amplified Republicans’ claims of an overheating economy. Yet both pressures should cool in the coming months, Goldman said. For one, the economy is still down roughly 8 million payrolls, and May’s pace of job creation still places a full recovery more than a year into the future. Labor supply, which has been slowing hiring in recent months, should also “increase dramatically” as virus fears dim and enhanced unemployment insurance lapses. As more Americans return to work, wage growth is expected to slow.

Inflation should also cool on the pricing side, according to the bank. Goldman’s trimmed core Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) index – which excludes the 30% largest month-over-month price changes – has only risen 1.6% from the year-ago level. By comparison, standard PCE – among the most popular US inflation gauges – notched a 3.6% year-over-year gain in April. Core PCE strips out volatile food and energy prices and is generally viewed as a more reliable measure of long-term inflation.

The disparity reveals the “unprecedented role of outliers” in driving inflation higher, and such an effect should “have only limited effects on longer-term inflation expectations,” the economists said in a note to clients.

“Ultimately, the biggest question in the overheating debate remains whether US output and employment will rise sharply above potential in the next few years,” the team added. “If the answer is yes, then inflation could indeed climb to undesirable levels on a more permanent basis. But our answer continues to be no.”

The forecasts echo sentiments shared recently by central bank officials. Fed Governor Lael Brainard said last week that, as schools reopen and vaccinations continue, it’s likely that the labor shortage will unravel. Job openings sat at record highs by the end of March, and a matching of such huge demand with bolstered supply should drive “further progress on employment,” she added.

More broadly, Goldman expects GDP growth to slow after peaking in the second quarter and normalize as stimulus support lapses. The massive jobs shortfall makes for “significant slack” in the labor market, the bank said, adding that unemployment-based output should reach its maximum potential in late 2023.

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Rent’s big comeback could be the thing that makes stronger inflation permanent

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Manager Justin Sielbach gives a tour of a unit at the 100 Van Ness apartment building on Friday, March 19, 2021 in San Francisco, California.

  • Shelter inflation – which tracks rent prices – is set to boom just as price growth elsewhere cools.
  • The jump could lead inflation to normalize above the Fed’s long-term target of 2%, Morgan Stanley said.
  • Climbing home prices and the end of payment forgiveness will likely drive shelter inflation higher.
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Rent prices tumbled at the start of the pandemic and are only just now on the rise. But where inflation in other pockets of the economy is expected to cool off, rent might just keep climbing.

The Federal Reserve, Biden administration officials, and much of Wall Street see elevated overall inflation eventually moderating as the economy settles into a new normal. The last inflation report, while stronger than expected, showed price growth picking up in services closely linked to reopening. The consensus holds that as such bottlenecks and pent-up demand fade, inflation should moderate, but “shelter inflation,” or rent, could be the big exception to that.

Rent prices are flashing “signs of more persistent inflationary pressures” on the horizon, Morgan Stanley economists said in a Sunday note. Shelter inflation – which covers rent and owners’ equivalent rents – is only just picking up after prices cratered through the pandemic.

Goldman Sachs echoed its peer in a Monday note, saying the “special factors” that held down shelter inflation during the health crisis will soon ease up and drive prices higher.

The shelter-inflation gauge is critical for broader inflation, since it represents “more cyclical, more persistent, and more inertial sources of price pressures,” Morgan Stanley said. And as shelter inflation accelerates through 2021, it could lead broader inflation to normalize above 2%, the team led by Ellen Zentner added.

Shelter inflation
Source: Goldman Sachs

Such an outcome could be worrisome for the Fed. The central bank has said it aims to let inflation run above 2% for some time before looking to pull it back to that threshold for the long term. Inflation settling above that level could force the Fed into an unforeseen corner.

Forecasts suggest soaring shelter inflation could also push inflation expectations permanently higher. Shelter prices are expected to grow 3.8% year-over-year by the end of 2022, Goldman economists said. Inflation will accelerate further and land above 4% in 2023, exceeding the highs of the last economic expansion.

With renters making up nearly one-third of the housing market, such strong inflation could spark intense price concerns. Elevated inflation expectations can drive real inflation higher, as businesses tend to raise prices and workers ask for higher wages when they expect price growth to accelerate.

Skyrocketing home prices could add to the sector’s price pressures, the team of Goldman economists led by Jan Hatzius said. A historic shortage of home inventory and surging demand led home prices to climb at their fastest-ever rate in February, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Although home prices don’t directly affect shelter inflation, Goldman found that 5% to 15% of home-price growth eventually spills over into shelter inflation.

To be sure, shelter inflation counts for just 20% of the core Personal Consumption Expenditures index and 40% of the core Consumer Price Index, two of the most popular broad inflation gauges. It would take considerably strong shelter inflation to pull both indexes to worrying levels.

Still, the component is one to watch as the country reopens, Goldman said. The end of pandemic-era payment forgiveness will likely skew data later this year, as will a tighter labor market. If those factors can fuel stronger shelter inflation expectations, broad inflation could follow.

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Why the sudden spike in inflation won’t last long, according to economists

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A shopper browses an aisle in a Michaels, an arts-and-crafts retailer, on March 03, 2021 in Miami, Florida.

  • Many economists expect inflation to cool as the US economy reopens despite April’s big jump.
  • Wednesday data showed prices climbing in March at their fastest rate since 2009.
  • Solving bottlenecks and hiring woes will help businesses catch up with the post-pandemic boom, experts said.
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Reopening-fueled inflation has arrived.

The Consumer Price Index – a key gauge of nationwide price growth – leaped 0.8% in April, trouncing the median estimate of a 0.2% jump. The increase was the largest since 2009. The index that excludes food and energy prices rose 0.9%, and that was the largest one-month surge since 1982.

The data highlights that relaxed lockdown measures, stronger demand, and widespread supply shortages converged to boost price growth. More recent headlines, particularly news of a cyberattack crippling a key oil pipeline, suggest inflation will accelerate further in May.

But for many economists, the unexpectedly large April jump isn’t a reason to worry, and those with the greatest influence over inflation seem unperturbed.

The Federal Reserve has said for months that, while reopening will likely accelerate price growth, the pickup will likely be temporary. In February, Fed Chair Jerome Powell noted the decades-long trend of weaker-than-hoped price growth isn’t likely to be permanently overridden by months of reopening.

“Inflation dynamics do change over time, but they don’t change on a dime,” he said, adding stimulus passed during the pandemic is also unlikely to change the predominant trend.

Fed Vice Chair Richard Clarida echoed his colleague’s remarks after Wednesday’s report. The inflation data was a “surprise,” but inflation should still cool and trend near the Fed’s long-term goal of 2% by next year, he said in remarks to the National Association for Business Economics International Symposium.

“We have pent-up demand in the economy. It may take some time for supply to rise up to demand,” Clarida added.

That imbalance between supply and demand is one of the top culprits behind the April uptick. Factories warned throughout the month that bottlenecks, order delays, and huge backlogs were keeping firms from servicing a boom in consumer demand. Hiring woes also slammed manufacturers, leaving them unable to scale their production.

Addressing backlogs and lifting supply should help inflation cool over the summer, JPMorgan economists said in a recent note. Robust economic growth and continued policy support will drive more Americans into the workforce and bottlenecks, by their nature, will fade as businesses rush to service outsize demand, the team led by Bruce Kasman said.

In a separate note published Wednesday, the bank sais “temporary pressures” were lifting inflation, citing “commodity prices, bottlenecks, and price level normalization.” Once the economy returns to its full potential and shortages are alleviated, price growth should slow, the team added.

Even the nature of the inflation bounce suggests the price growth won’t last. One-third of the 0.8% boost was linked to a record-high increase in used vehicle prices as demand ran up against an inventory shortage. The rest of the increase was largely powered by other reopening-related expenses including airline tickets, recreation, and lodging.

It’s logical to expect demand for travel and leisure to normalize after booming through the reopening. Powell illustrated the limitation in March, noting one “can only go out to dinner once per night.” If long-shuttered businesses continue to drive faster price growth, it’s likely inflation will weaken once the country enters a new normal.

And the April report, while surprising, only shows one month of hot inflation. It would likely take a few more stronger-than-expected readings to worry Fed officials, Edward Moya, senior analyst at Oanda, said Wednesday.

“If the inflation numbers continue to surge at the end of the summer, that might be what could force Powell to pivot that pricing pressures might not be transitory.”

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