Bernanke addresses Atlanta economic conference

June 6, 2011 07:00 PM

Indeed, the declines in many commodity prices seen over the past few weeks may be an indication that such moderation is occurring. I will discuss commodity prices further momentarily.

(1) Through April, personal consumption expenditures (PCE) inflation over the previous six months was 3.6 percent at an annual rate; excluding gasoline, inflation over that period was 2 percent. Over a 12-month span, inflation through April was 2.2 percent; excluding gasoline, it was 1.2 percent.

Besides the prospect of more-stable commodity prices, two other factors suggest that inflation is likely to return to more subdued levels in the medium term. First, the still-substantial slack in U.S. labor and product markets should continue to have a moderating effect on inflationary pressures. Notably, because of the weak demand for labor, wage increases have not kept pace with productivity gains. Thus the level of unit labor costs in the business sector is lower than it was before the recession. Given the large share of labor costs in the production costs of most firms (typically, a share far larger than that of raw materials costs), subdued unit labor costs should remain a restraining influence on inflation. To be clear, I am not arguing that healthy increases in real wages are inconsistent with low inflation; the two are perfectly consistent so long as productivity growth is reasonably strong.

The second additional factor restraining inflation is the stability of longer-term inflation expectations. Despite the recent pickup in overall inflation, measures of households’ longer-term inflation expectations from the Michigan survey, the 10-year inflation projections of professional economists, the 5- year-forward measure of inflation compensation derived from yields on inflation-protected securities, and other measures of longer-term inflation expectations have all remained reasonably stable.2 As long as longer-term inflation expectations are stable, increases in global commodity prices are unlikely to be built into domestic wage- and price-setting processes, and they should therefore have only transitory effects on the rate of inflation. That said, the stability of ..

2 In the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers, the median reading on expected inflation over the next 5 to 10 years was 2.9 percent in May after having averaged 2.8 percent in 2010. In the Survey of Professional Forecasters (SPF) compiled by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, the median projection for PCE inflation over the next 10 years was 2.3 percent in May, up from the 2.1 percent average reading last year. The equivalent SPF projection for CPI inflation was 2.4 percent, versus 2.3 percent in 2010. The 5-year forward measure of inflation compensation derived from TIPS stood at about 2-3/4 percent in May, down noticeably from the levels observed toward the end of 2010.

… inflation expectations is ensured only as long as the commitment of the central bank to low and stable inflation remains credible. Thus, the Federal Reserve will continue to closely monitor the evolution of inflation and inflation expectations and will take whatever actions are necessary to keep inflation well controlled.

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