Inflation edges its way higher from a 17-year low: CommSec's Craig James

Inflation edges its way higher from a 17-year low: CommSec's Craig James
Inflation edges its way higher from a 17-year low: CommSec's Craig James


Low inflation: The Consumer Price Index – the main measure of inflation in Australia – rose by 0.7 percent in the September quarter, above expectations for a lift of 0.4-0.5 percent. In seasonally adjusted terms the CPI rose by 0.4 percent. The annual rate of inflation rose from a 17-year low of 1.0 percent to 1.3 percent (seasonally adjusted 1.4 percent).

Underlying measures: The Reserve Bank monitors three measures to derive the underlying inflation rate. The trimmed mean rose by 0.4 percent in the September quarter (1.7 percent annual); the weighted median rose by 0.3 percent (1.3 percent annual) and the CPI less volatile items rose by 0.5 percent (1.7 percent annual). Overall, underlying inflation rose by 0.4 percent in the quarter and by 1.6 percent over the year.

Main changes: Fruit prices rose by 19.5 percent in the quarter with electricity up by 5.4 percent, tobacco up by 2.3 percent, vegetables up 5.9 percent and property rates and charges up 4.0 percent. The CPI was dragged lower by a 2.9 percent fall in petrol prices and a 2.5 percent fall in telecom equipment and services.

What does it all mean?

Inflation has lifted from the canvas, albeit with a lot of help from higher prices for fruit and vegetables. Still, the higher headline rate of inflation will serve to lift key measures of inflation expectations and thus make it more likely that inflation will return to the 2-3 per cent target band in coming quarters.

Underlying inflation remains low: up 0.4 percent in the quarter to be up 1.6 percent for the year. But if recent floods cause more food inflation, this will drive headline inflation, and in turn, lift underlying price measures.

It is clear that inflation is still historically low. So, the Reserve Bank can still cut rates if it wants to take out some insurance on a stronger growth/stronger inflation outcome. So a rate can’t on November 1 can’t be totally ruled out. But financial markets are not betting on it – with pricing suggesting that there is a 6 per cent chance of a rate cut in November. And the Reserve Bank is indeed looking for reasons not to cut rates rather than reasons to reduce rates to new record lows.

It is clear that interest rates will stay low for an extended period. Global competition ensures that retailers can’t lift prices in the current environment. 

The Reserve Bank would also welcome the fact that coal, oil and iron ore prices are rising, the US economy remains in good shape, China is still expanding at a near 7 percent annual clip and that European growth is looking better. Inflation still faces challenges in returning to 2-3 percent, but prospects of getting back to the band are looking better.

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Inflation edges its way higher from a 17-year low: CommSec's Craig James

Craig James is the chief economist at CommSec.

Cpi Inflation

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