The New York Fed created a new inflation gauge. What does it mean for the gold market?
The standard inflation measures are the CPI and the Personal Consumption Expenditures Price Index. They are useful indicators of changes in consumer prices. However, they omit producer prices, commodity prices, or asset prices. Hence, the central banks’ focus on consumer prices makes them blind to asset prices bubbles and the broad inflation pressure. This was the case of both the Great Depression and the Great Recession: the CPI was stable, so the Fed did not perceive its monetary policy as easy, despite the impressive rise in stock and real estate markets.
Therefore, the Fed has finally decided to see what would happen if it started to include the asset prices in its gauges. And what a surprise – the result is much higher inflation! Who would have thought? The new inflation measure is called the Underlying Inflation Gauge (UIG) and it includes not only consumer prices, but also producer prices, commodity prices and real and financial asset prices. It is, thus, a really broad measure of inflation in the economy.
Importantly, the last reading for annual inflation in October was 2.96%, almost a percentage point above the CPI or the Fed’s target rate. As one can see in the chart below, the UIG has been higher than the CPI since about 2013. And it has been higher than the Fed’s 2% rate target since 2014. It implies that the U.S. central bank started its tightening cycle too late. The consequences might be very bad for the broad economy, but good for safe havens such as gold.
OK, broad inflation, which includes asset prices etc., is higher than consumer price inflation. But what does it mean for the gold market? Well, quite a lot, actually. It shows that inflation is not subdued in the U.S. economy. Hence, the obsessive fear of deflationary pressures and of the extinction of inflation is misguided. It may, thus, lead to too slow normalization of the monetary policy. The FOMC is tightening its stance, but not quickly enough. Staying behind the curve implies the risk of a sudden pickup in inflation in the future. Not looking at asset prices may lead to too expansive monetary policy and the buildup of financial imbalances, including the price bubbles. When the bubble bursts or inflation rears its ugly head, gold – as the ultimate safe haven – should shine.