Best of the Week
Most Popular
1.London House Prices Bubble, Debt Slavery, Crimea 2.0 - Russia Ukraine Annexation - Nadeem_Walayat
2. Gold And Silver – 2014 Coud Be A Yawner; Be Prepared For A Surprise - Michael_Noonan
3.Sheffield, Rotherham Roma Benefits Plague, Ch5 Documentary Gypsies on Benefits & Proud - Nadeem_Walayat
4.Glaring Q.E. Failure Spotted - Money Velocity Is Falling Rapidly - Jim_Willie_CB
5.Don't Miss the Boat on Big Biotech Catalysts: Keith Markey - Keith Markey
6.Gold Prices 2014: Do What Goldman Does, Not What It Says - David Zeiler
7.Bitcoin Price Strong Appreciation to Be Followed by Declines? - Mike_McAra
8.Gold Preparing to Launch as U.S. Dollar Drops to Key Support - Jason_Hamlin
9.Doctor Doom on the Fiat Money Empire Coming Financial Crisis - Andrew_McKillop
10.The Real Purpose Of QE - It’s Not Employment - Darryl_R_Schoon
Last 72 Hrs
Rome Wasn't Burnt In A Day - 24th Apr 14
When Does Government Policy Become Criminal Behavior? - 24th Apr 14
The Great Recession Grinds On - Measuring Misery around the World - 24th Apr 14
Apple, Facebook Beat Expectations - Stock Markets Long-term Recap - 24th Apr 14
Broad Stock Market Situation on the Remains Tense as Companies Release Quarterly Earnings - 24th Apr 14
How High-Frequency Traders Use Dark Pools to Cheat Investors - 24th Apr 14
Stock Market Bears Wrong Again, Apple to Push Dow to New All time High - 24th Apr 14
Gold Prepared for the Attack of the Short Sellers - 24th Apr 14
Weak U.S. Housing Data Supports Euro - 24th Apr 14
Killing the Maximum-Wage Myth - 23rd Apr 14
U.S. Quarterly Economic Review - Optimism at the Fed - 23rd Apr 14
Why Mohamed El-Erian Left Pimco - Video - 23rd Apr 14
QE Is A Fraud Perpetrated By Made Men - 23rd Apr 14
Gold and Miners Outperform Once Again - 23rd Apr 14
G-20 and the US Tell the Bank of Japan to End Quantitative Easing - 23rd Apr 14
How to Get in the Trading Game and Profit - 23rd Apr 14
Fed Follies, U.S. Housing Market Fiasco - 23rd Apr 14
What Will December 31, 2014 Financial Headlines Look Like? - 23rd Apr 14
Why Gasoline Prices are Surging Again - 22nd Apr 14
Cold War 2.0 - 22nd Apr 14
The JIS – Junk Ideology Syndrome - 22nd Apr 14
How to Avoid Losing All Your Money - 22nd Apr 14
Silver Up, Stocks S&P Down - 22nd Apr 14
U.S. Mainstream Media Propaganda Setting the Stage for War With Pakistan - 22nd Apr 14
U.S. Interest Rates are NOT Rising! - 22nd Apr 14
A Crisis vs. the REAL Crisis: Keep Your Eye on the Debt Ball - 22nd Apr 14
Bitcoin Implications of Lack of Price Action - 22nd Apr 14
Japan - The Twilight Of The Rising Sun - 22nd Apr 14
Is This What a Credit Bubble Looks Like? - 22nd Apr 14
The Dark Side Of The Silver Mining Industry - 21st Apr 14
Strong U.S. Dollar Rally Could Pull Rug From Under Gold and Silver - 21st Apr 14
Silver Feeble Rally Fails to Hold Breakout, Falling Back Towards Support - 21st Apr 14
Stock Market Smart Money – All Out or More to Go? - 21st Apr 14
Fast Rising Pump Prices Counterattack - 21st Apr 14
Extreme Climate Change And Life On This Planet - 21st Apr 14
Gold and Silver Stocks Sitting Tight - 21st Apr 14
Stock Market Minor Correction Imminent - 21st Apr 14

Free Instant Analysis

Free Instant Technical Analysis


Market Oracle FREE Newsletter

Symptoms Don't Lie, The Economic Patient is Getting Sicker

Economics / Inflation May 10, 2013 - 06:41 PM GMT

By: Peter_Schiff

Economics

A good doctor will not simply make a diagnosis based on measurements. The symptoms and complaints expressed by the patient are at least as important in making a determination as the data provided by diagnostic tools. When the data says one thing and the symptoms continuously say another, it makes sense to question the reliability of the instruments. This would be particularly true if the instruments are furnished by a party with a stake in a favorable diagnosis, say an insurance company on the hook for treatment costs. The same holds true for the U.S. economy. Although our government-supplied data suggests we are experiencing low inflation and modest economic growth, the economy shows symptoms of low growth, rising prices, and diminishing purchasing power.


In my latest commentary I discussed how the Big Mac Index (The Economist Magazine's 30 year data set on Big Mac prices) provided strong anecdotal evidence that inflation in the United States is higher than official figures. More information has come in since then that tells me the same thing: that Americans are downsizing their lives as their incomes fail to keep pace with rising prices. These symptoms are at odds with the widespread belief in an accelerating recovery that has resulted in braggadocio in Washington and euphoria on Wall Street.

Earlier this week Tyson Foods, one of the nation's largest providers of packaged meat products, announced that although their top line sales revenue increased by almost 2% (roughly in line with U.S. GDP growth), operating margins collapsed by almost 50%, leading to a 43% decline in profit. Consumer shifts away from relatively higher priced/higher margin beef and pork products to lower cost/lower margin chicken products were to blame. Tyson also noted that cost conscious consumers shifted away from higher margin packaged chicken products to fresh meat cuts, thereby sacrificing convenience for cost.

According to government statisticians, the Tyson announcement would reveal modest growth and low inflation. After all, revenue at the company grew and spending on their products had increased modestly. But rising prices were obscured by consumers purchasing lower quality products. Not only are consumers avoiding the beef and pork that they otherwise may have preferred, but they are opting out of the convenience of prepared foods. This behavior is symptomatic of diminished consumer purchasing power. This is known as getting poorer.

The trend corresponds with the steady increase in the share of income that Americans devote to food and energy. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis data, in 2002 Americans spent about 17.8% of income on food and energy. In the first quarter of 2013 the share had risen by a factor of 20% to 21.3% of income. Increased share of spending on necessities like food and energy is consistent with falling living standards. In the poorest countries almost all of income is devoted to such things.

This week we also learned the seemingly positive news that the March trade deficit narrowed to $38.8 billion. But the reduction didn't come from increased exports (which actually declined), but by the sharpest drop in imports since February 2009. Oil imports declined to a seventeen-year low, in part due to rising domestic production, but also due to a record low in 13 years in gasoline consumption. While some may argue that is a function of greater energy efficiency, I believe it's more likely that usage is down because of high prices and high unemployment. Even more significant is that our trade deficit with China in March dropped by a whopping 23.6%, hitting a three-year low. On a year over year basis, the decline in our deficit with China was 90% attributable to the decline in imports.

In contrast to the declining import figures, the government reported that personal spending rose by .2% in March. If we are buying less stuff from abroad, where are Americans spending the extra money? If the prices are stable, and imports are way down, consumer spending should also be down and savings should be up. But the savings rate in March held steady at a meager 2.7%. The sad truth is that Americans are buying fewer Chinese products because they are spending more money on food, rent, utilities, healthcare, insurance, and other necessities that can't be imported. Again, this is consistent with a falling standard of living, as inflation forces consumers to forgo the things they want in order to buy the things that they need.

It was also announced this week that the big three airlines (United, Delta, and American) will be raising their "change fees" for booked tickets by 33%, from $150 to $200. However, it's unlikely that such a hike will make much of an impact on CPI. According to the CPI, airline fares in the United States increased only .3% from 2011 to 2012. This mild increase came at a time when airlines were rolling out more new fees than most air travelers could have possibly imagined.

But even if the government fully factored in the increase in fees, they would likely ignore the change in behavior that the increase would elicit. With the cost of changing a ticket so dramatically higher than it has been in the past, it is likely that far fewer Americans would be willing to change their travel plans once their tickets have been purchased. So even while the spending increase may be relatively small, the lost convenience is not factored into the equation. A ticket with low price (or no price) change option is a much better product than a ticket with high penalties.

CPI reports that from 2007 to 2012 air travel increased on average 4% per year. But that's only half the story. A new study released by MIT reports that during those five years, U.S. airlines cut the number of domestic flights by 14%,with the cuts falling most heavily on mid-sized regional airports. By 2012, the industry also closed more than 20 smaller airports, began using a higher percentage of larger airplanes, and reported record crowding on remaining flights. In other words, air travel not only became more expensive but less convenient and more crowded.

How much loss in value does this inconvenience and lack of flexibility create? It's hard to say, but we all have experienced it with varying degrees of frustration. But what is sure is that the government isn't interested in such trivialities.

The combination of these symptoms suggests that the extent to which people are being impoverished by accelerating inflation is not reflected in official government measurements. This explains why unemployment remains high even as GDP appears to rise. It is my belief that the unprecedented expansion of the money supply under the current Fed leadership is pushing up prices for stocks, bonds, real estate, and consumer goods. Market indices neatly capture the price increases for all of these categories except for the latter, which has been concealed by an overly adjusted CPI.

If consumer inflation data were reported more accurately, it would be revealed that much of the apparent growth is an illusion. The patient is getting sicker, but the doctors are too distracted to notice.

Peter Schiff is the CEO and Chief Global Strategist of Euro Pacific Capital, best-selling author and host of syndicated Peter Schiff Show.

Subscribe to Euro Pacific's Weekly Digest: Receive all commentaries by Peter Schiff, John Browne, and other Euro Pacific commentators delivered to your inbox every Monday!

And be sure to order a copy of Peter Schiff's recently released NY Times Best Seller, The Real Crash: America's Coming Bankruptcy - How to Save Yourself and Your Country.

Regards,
Peter Schiff

Euro Pacific Capital
http://www.europac.net/

Peter Schiff Archive

© 2005-2014 http://www.MarketOracle.co.uk - The Market Oracle is a FREE Daily Financial Markets Analysis & Forecasting online publication.


Post Comment

Only logged in users are allowed to post comments. Register/ Log in

Free Report - Financial Markets 2014