The latest Core Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) data indicates a slowdown in inflation, easing concerns about wage-price spirals and hyperinflation. This is akin to the post-World War II era, which suggests that current inflation pressures might be temporary. In today’s FA Alpha Daily, we look at the current economic landscape through a historical precedent that warns of a potential downturn.
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Price jumps are finally beginning to slow down…
The latest data from Core Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) presents an optimistic picture, indicating a slowdown in inflation rates.
With Core PCE at 2.9% and total PCE at 2.6%, the intense inflationary period that dominated discussions throughout 2022 and into 2023 is showing signs of subsiding.
This development is particularly encouraging as it alleviates concerns ranging from wage-price spirals to hyperinflation, which many fear could destabilize the economy as we advance into 2024.
The reduction in inflation rates is reminiscent of the economic resurgence following World War II, suggesting a promising path toward economic stability.
Reflecting on the late 1940s, the post-World War II era offers valuable insights into our current economic landscape.
During the war, economies were predominantly focused on military production, leading to rationing and high savings due to the scarcity of consumer goods. This pent-up financial capacity exploded into consumer spending post-war, escalating demand beyond the supply and driving inflation.
By 1946 and 1947, inflation had soared to 20%, but this spike was short-lived. Effective monetary policies by the Federal Reserve managed to temper inflation, bringing it down to more manageable levels within two years, showcasing the power of monetary policy in economic regulation.
This rapid adjustment was a testament to the effectiveness of monetary policy in controlling inflation, even in the face of significant economic shifts.
History is known to repeat itself…
When we compare this historical scenario to the inflation trends from 2020 to the present, there are striking similarities.
The COVID-19 pandemic led to unprecedented global economic disruption, resulting in supply chain issues and a surge in demand as economies reopened.
Like the late 1940s, this combination drove inflation rates higher, peaking at around 10% in some regions, which—while not as extreme as the post-war period—represents a significant spike by modern standards.
If we take a moment to compare a chart of inflation from the late 1940s to the period from 2020 to the present, we’ll notice a striking resemblance in the trends.
Despite a difference in the peak inflation rates—8% recently compared to 18% in the post-war era—the patterns are notably similar.
Following the initial surge in the 1940s, inflation rates began to fall, even flirting with deflation.
The key driver behind both of these inflationary periods was a mismatch between supply and demand. In the late 1940s, the economy adjusted as supply chains caught up and consumer spending stabilized.
We are beginning to see similar adjustments today, with supply chain issues gradually resolving and demand normalizing.
This adjustment gives us a reason to be optimistic that the current inflationary pressures may be temporary and that inflation rates will begin to fall back to target levels.
However, it’s also crucial to note that the resolution of post-war inflation coincided with a minor recession in 1949.
This historical precedent serves as a reminder that the process of economic adjustment can lead to periods of contraction.
The minor recession of 1949 was a brief and relatively mild contraction, but as we navigate the post-pandemic economic landscape, it’s essential to not turn a blind eye to signs of a potential downturn.
Joel Litman & Rob Spivey
Chief Investment Strategist &
Director of Research
at Valens Research
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