European Inflation

Analysis of European inflation by Ophelie Gilbert.

The sovereign debt crisis in 2011-12 accentuated the downward trend in inflation for the Eurozone. In the aftermath, the core inflation of the Eurozone, which mostly reflects domestic inflation pressures, has declined as slack in the labour market jumped higher. Since 2013, the ongoing fall in international commodity prices has also caused the headline inflation rate to collapse, since this measure includes what economists call the volatile components: commodities and food. So the inflation rate that is prevailing today is not only about oil, but the result both of internal factors and the diffusion of global factors with many transmission channels. In 2015, core inflation even passed below 1%, which is a strong warning level for any central banker.
Why is a low inflation rate so critical? First, low inflation makes for less efficient central bank policy, as its means higher real interest rates. Second, low inflation becomes more troublesome if it is too low for too long, as it could result in a change in people’s expectations of future inflation. This could trigger a dangerous self-fulfilling loop if expectations are de-anchored, and it is very difficult to reverse disinflationary shocks – as shown in Japan
The European Central Bank (ECB) has – finally – implemented strong action to reflate the economy and stop the persistent decline in inflation, and seems to have had a particular focus on increasing the core rate. The ECB’s objective is for Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation to be close to but below 2%, which was challenging throughout 2015.

2016 was supposed to be the year of the rebound for the headline inflation after the huge impact of the oil collapse on the 2015 inflation rate. The theory was that the negative base effects on energy prices would be removed from December onwards, and support a higher inflation rate next year. This remains true to an extent, however, once again, the oil price is playing the fool. The oil market is suffering from excess supply, and these imbalances need to be absorbed. Oil prices will remain the most important driving force for inflation, in both directions. The market is expecting a slight rebound of the oil price over next year, but if oil remains below $40 it will keep the headline inflation far from the ECB’s projection for 2016, and clearly it will again complicate the ECB’s job.

The ECB’s job is further complicated by the fact that economic growth in the Eurozone is actually on-going, firm and broad-based, and the fall in the oil price is very good news for consumer purchasing power. Nevertheless, consumer price inflation dynamics will be key to the ECB’s reaction function in 2016 in the Euro area.

Source: Allianz Global Investors