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The CPI Understates Inflation Skewing Our Expectations

The CPI Understates Inflation Skewing Our Expectations 

The purpose of the consumer price index (CPI) is to reflect just how much inflation is eating into both our incomes and our savings. Consumer inflation has been estimated since the 1700s, by measuring price changes in a fixed-weight basket of goods. This method was seen as a way of measuring the cost of maintaining a constant standard of living. In the last 30 years, a growing gap has become obvious between government reporting of inflation, as measured by the CPI, and the perception of actual inflation held by the general public.

Currently, the government understates inflation by using a formula based on the concept of a “constant level of satisfaction” that evolved during the first half of the 20th century in academia. This extended into the BLS re-weightings sales outlets such as discount or mass merchandisers with Main Street shops. Those promoting this change claim it is simply another way to measure inflation and it still reflects the true cost of living. Politicians touting the benefits of this system created it as a way to reduce the cost of living adjustments for government payments to Social Security recipients, etc. By moving to a substitution-based index and weakening other constant-standard-of-living ties those reporting inflation have muddied the water as to just how much we are being impacted by inflation.

The general argument was that changing relative costs of goods results in consumers substituting less-expensive goods for more expensive goods.  Allowing for a substitution of goods within the formerly “fixed-basket” would allow the consumer flexibility in obtaining a “constant level of satisfaction.” This adjustment to the inflation measure was touted as more appropriate for the GDP concept in measuring shifting demand and weighting actual consumption. Other tricks were also used to give the illusion of less inflation.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Will Your Retirement Efforts Achieve Escape Velocity?

Will Your Retirement Efforts Achieve Escape Velocity?

Sadly, most of us will outlive our savings

The concept of ‘retirement’, of enjoying decades of work-free leisure in your golden years, is a relatively new construct. It’s only been around for a few generations.

In fact, the current version of the relaxed, golfing/RV-touring/country club retirement lifestyle only came into being in the post-WW2 boom era — as Social Security, corporate & government pensions, cheap and plentiful energy, and extended lifespans made it possible for the masses.

But increasingly, it looks like the dream of retiring is fast falling out of reach for many of today’s Baby Boomers. Most will outlive their savings (if they have any at all).

And the retirement prospects look even worse for Generations X, the Millennials, and Gen Z.

A Bad Squeeze

While the US enjoyed a wave of unprecedented prosperity throughout the 20th century, the data clearly shows that halcyon era is ending.

Real wages (i.e., nominal $ earned divided by the inflation rate) for the average American worker have hardly budged since the mid-1960s:

Yet the cost of living has changed dramatically over the same time period. Note how the rate of increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) started accelerating in the late ’60s and never looked back:

Squeezed between stagnant wages and a rising living costs, perhaps it should be little surprise that so many Americans are having difficulty finding anything left over to save for retirement.

We’ve written about this extensively in our past reports, such as Let’s Stop Fooling Ourselves: Americans Can’t Afford The Future and The Great Retirement Con. But as a way of driving the point home, here are some quick sobering stats from the National Institute On Retirement Security:

  • The median retirement account balance among all working US adults is $0. This is true even for the cohort closest to retirement age, those 55-64 years old.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Coming Inflation Threat: The Worst Of Both Worlds

Sandusky Register

The Coming Inflation Threat: The Worst Of Both Worlds

Expect falling asset inflation, but rising cost inflation
Inflation is a funny thing: we feel it virtually every day, but we’re told it doesn’t exist—the official inflation rate is around 2.5% over the past few years, a little higher when energy prices are going up and a little lower when energy prices are going down.

Historically, 2.5% is about as low as inflation gets in a mass-consumption economy like the U.S. that depends on the constant expansion of credit.

But even 2.5% annually can add up if wages are stagnant. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), what cost $1 in January 2009 now costs $1.19. https://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm

That 19% decline in the purchasing power of dollars is tolerable as long as wages go up by 20% over the same period, but for many American households, wages haven’t kept pace with official inflation.

While the nominal hourly wages keep rising, adjusted for inflation, wages have stagnated for decades.  Here’s a chart based on BLS data that shows median weekly earnings adjusted for official inflation rose $6 a week after five years of decline:

But stagnant wages are only part of the inflation picture: official inflation under-represents real-world inflation on several counts.

First, the weightings of the components in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) are suspect.  Many commentators have explored this issue, but the main point is the severe underweighting of expenses such as healthcare, which is only 8.67% of the CPI but over 18% of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Second, the “big ticket” components—rent/housing, healthcare and higher education—are under-reported for those who have to pay the unsubsidized cost.  The CPI reflects minor cost decreases in tradable commodity goods such as TVs and clothing that are small parts of the family budget, while minimizing enormous expenses such as college tuition and healthcare that can cost $20,000 annually or more.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Is an Inflation Comeback in the Works?

LOVINGSTON, VIRGINIA – Amid all the sound and fury of the Trump news cycle, hardly anyone noticed. There is a specter haunting this economy. It is the specter of inflation…

See, if you want to whip inflation now, you don’t need to do any of the really difficult things, such as printing less money… or God forbid, return to honest, market-chosen money (shudder!). All you need is intelligent nutrition!     Image credit: Marshall Astor

Bloomberg has the report:

The U.S. cost of living increased in January by the most since February 2013, led by higher costs for gasoline and other goods and services that indicate inflation is gathering momentum. The consumer-price index rose a larger-than-forecast 0.6% after a 0.3% gain in December, Labor Department figures showed Wednesday. Compared with the same month last year, costs paid by Americans for goods and services rose 2.5%, the most since March 2012.

French investment bank Natixis makes a related observation:

The return of inflation in the euro zone with the rise in the oil price will drive the European Central Bank to give up QE […] Our estimate is that an end to QE would raise interest rates by 110 basis points. 

Wait – inflation is what the Fed has been looking for. And the latest numbers reveal it may have already reached the Fed’s target of 2%. If you’ll recall, the Fed set itself two targets: Unemployment would have to fall below 5%. And inflation would have to rise above 2%. Reaching those two targets would prove that the economy was healthy enough to allow the Fed to raise rates.

Higher rates of inflation – higher prices – signal more consumer demand. And more labor demand, too. It suggests there are more people with more money ready to spend it. How could that ever be a bad thing?

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Ed Butowsky: Calculating The True Cost of Living

Ed Butowsky: Calculating The True Cost of Living

Why it’s much higher than we’re told/sold 

Over the past decade, we’ve been told that inflation has been tame — actually below the target the Federal Reserve would like to see. But if that’s true, then why does the average household find it harder and harder to get by?

The ugly reality is that the true annual cost of living is far outpacing the government’s reported inflation rate. By nearly 10x in many parts of the country.

This week, we welcome Ed Butowsky, developer of the Chapwood Index, to the program. His index is a ‘real world’ measure of how prices are increasing much faster than the wages of the 99% can afford:

In my business, I wanted to make sure that I was building portfolios that weren’t just efficient but got people the rate of return that they needed. I thought: My goodness, what I need to do is give people a list of everything they spend money on and have them track quarter by quarter exactly their increases, so I can do a better job as a financial advisor in determining what return I need to target. 

I got a hold of a list of 50 major metropolitan areas and found people in every city and I gave them a job: I asked everybody to send me what items they spend their after-tax dollars on. I got about 4,000 different items. Then I took the 500 that most frequently appeared on the list and we’ve been tracking specifically these same items in every city since that period of time. I weight this list based on what percentage of a normal income people spend on each item.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Inaccurate statistics and the threat to bonds

Inaccurate statistics and the threat to bonds

Statistics have become very misleading: in particular we are being badly misled into believing that the US is teetering on the edge of price deflation, because the US official rate of inflation is barely positive, a level that US bonds and therefore all other financial markets have priced in without accepting it is actually significantly higher.

There are two possible approaches to assessing the true rate of price inflation. You can either reverse all the tweaks government statisticians have implemented over the decades to reduce the apparent rate, or you can collect a statistically significant sample of price data independently and turn that into an index. John Williams of Shadowstats.com is well known for his work on the former approach, but until recently I was unaware that anyone was attempting the latter. That is until Simon Hunt of Simon Hunt Strategic Services drew my attention to the Chapwood Index, which deserves wider publicity.

This is from the website: “The Chapwood Index reflects the true cost-of-living increase in America. Updated and released twice a year, it reports the unadjusted actual cost and price fluctuation of the top 500 items on which Americans spend their after-tax dollars in the 50 largest cities in the nation.” It is, therefore, statistically significant, and it consistently shows price inflation to be much higher than that indicated by the Consumer Price Index (CPI).

The table below shows this difference since 2011, and how it affects real GDP.

Chapwood index

Sources: Chapwood Index, US Bureau of Labor Statistics and Bureau of Economic Analysis. Figures may not total due to rounding.

The Chapwood number in the table is the simple arithmetic average of the 50 cities. The year-in, year-out 10% inflation rate is notable. Furthermore, Chapwood shows cumulative inflation rate as shown by the CPI for the four years to be understated by 39.9%, and using Chapwood numbers in place of the GDP deflator, real GDP has slumped a cumulative total of 21.4% over the four years.

 

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

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