The CPI inflation figures introduced in the present day weren’t a lot totally different from market expectations, however 10-year T-bond costs rose about 1% and yields declined to under 3.5% on the information. Why was the inflation report bullish for the bond market?  I think it has one thing to do with the figures for shelter inflation, which got here in at 0.8% month-over-month.  However first a little bit of perspective.

In July 2009, I did a submit arguing that worth indices ought to embrace “spot rents”, that are the rental price of newly leased flats.  If the index consists of rents on present contracts, then the CPI will lag effectively behind precise modifications within the worth stage.  Right here’s what I mentioned in 2009, a interval when home costs had been falling quickly:

At this level you could be questioning how the federal government could possibly be so silly as to suppose home costs have risen 2.1% over the previous yr.  Effectively they might be silly, however not THAT silly.  They’re attempting to measure one thing known as the “rental equal” price of housing.  But by all accounts even month-to-month rents are falling quickly.  So why do they present 2.1% inflation of housing costs?  I’m undecided; maybe somebody can reply these two questions:

1.  Do they issue within the impact of offers that embrace one or two months of free lease?  I don’t suppose they do.  These are far more widespread throughout a downturn, and are disguised worth cuts.

2.  Do they survey all flats, or simply newly rented items?  I hope it’s the latter, as rents on older leases are usually not true costs in any respect, and may positively not be included in any worth index.   They’re analogous to month-to-month funds on a mortgage.

It seems that the CPI is biased in simply the best way that I feared again in 2009; it depends on the common lease beneath present contracts, not simply new contracts.

Extra lately, this message appears to have filtered all the way down to the Federal Reserve.  That is from a Bloomberg article printed about three weeks in the past:

The cooldown in US housing ought to present up in official inflation information subsequent yr, in line with a brand new index that goals to seize modifications in rental markets with out the same old lag. 

Researchers on the Federal Reserve Financial institution of Cleveland and the Bureau of Labor Statistics constructed a gauge that’s based mostly solely on the leases of tenants who lately moved in, and in contrast it with one other that measures the common of rents for all tenants.

Not surprisingly, the index on rents for brand new tenants is a number one indicator of future CPI inflation:

The outcomes, in line with a paper this month, present the new-tenant index is now dropping quick, from a peak round 12%. The researchers discovered that their new-tenant information tends to run forward of BLS housing measures within the client worth index by about one yr, whereas for the all-tenant measure the hole is about one quarter.  

So why was the 0.8% rise in housing prices excellent news?  In spite of everything, that’s nearly a ten% annual charge.  The products information could be damaged down into two parts:

1. Housing now explains nearly the entire core CPI inflation.

2. Within the spot market, housing inflation has already slowed sharply from its peak in mid-2022.  It will present up in decrease total housing inflation later this yr.

The general determine for core inflation was 0.3% in January.  Since housing is roughly a 3rd of the core CPI, the 0.8% rise in shelter costs suggests that nearly the entire 0.3% core inflation in December was brought on by housing.  The remainder of the index barely modified.

At first look, it seems to be like I’m making a traditional error—changing into optimistic about inflation by disregarding the quickest rising element of the CPI.  Individuals who did this through the Nineteen Seventies (and 2021) ended up being persistently flawed.  They’d say, “Sure, however in case you take out the consequences of X and Y, then inflation wasn’t so unhealthy.”  That’s defective reasoning, as a median will all the time be decrease in case you take out the parts which are above common.  If there’s an underlying inflation downside, then another element will take the lead within the subsequent interval.

I’m not discounting rental inflation as a result of it’s larger than common, I’m discounting it as a result of it’s being measured with an extended lag.  It’s the spot rents that matter when attempting to determine the place housing inflation is headed going ahead.  

I nonetheless could finish being flawed, nevertheless it received’t be as a result of I’m making the traditional mistake of discounting an unfavorable element, it is going to be as a result of the speed of inflation in spot rents begins to re-accelerate.  And that may rely on two different elements (that are intently associated), nominal wages and nominal GDP.

Finally, rents are more likely to observe the trail of wages and NGDP.  Rents rose quick throughout 2022 as a result of wages and NGDP rose quick.  To make everlasting progress on rents we have to have completely slower NGDP and nominal wage development.  (As an apart, after all extra housing development could be good and lease management could be unhealthy, however the important thing to lowering (nominal) housing inflation is controlling NGDP development.) 

To summarize, I think the bond market was not significantly shocked by the 0.3% core inflation determine.  As a substitute, I imagine merchants had been pleasantly shocked to see that nearly the entire core inflation was housing.  Since we already know from the spot market that measured housing inflation is more likely to gradual later in 2023, the bond market handled this data as excellent news.  However to make everlasting progress towards inflation, we nonetheless have to gradual NGDP development and nominal wage development.  There’s nonetheless extra work to be carried out. 

PS.  Bloomberg supplied this useful graph:

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