Two Very Different Views On Soaring Food Inflation

Two rather amusing, and quite opposing views on surging food inflation (recall that as we first reported beef prices are at record high), which was confirmed by this week's PPI and CPI reports: one from Goldman, the other from IHS Global. We let readers decide which one is right... and which one will determine the Fed's "thinking" about soaring good inflation.

First, some unintended humor from David Mericle, the latest addition to Goldman's economics team, which lost all credibility some time in 2010 when Hatzius got his first (of many) tap on the shoulder.

Impact of Higher Food Prices on Core Inflation Should be Modest


Agricultural commodity prices have risen sharply in 2014, with the S&P GSCI Agriculture & Livestock Index up about 15%. In addition, concerns ranging from droughts in California and Latin America to political tensions in Ukraine threaten to push food prices higher this year. Today, we assess the implications of higher food prices for the inflation outlook.


In the aftermath of spikes in agricultural commodity prices in 2007-2008 and 2010-2011, both retail food prices and core and headline inflation increased substantially. However, those episodes differed from the current one in two key respects. First, the food price spikes were about four times as large. Second, there were simultaneous spikes in oil prices that likely accounted for most of the pass-through to core inflation.



Our statistical model suggests that while agricultural commodity prices show moderate pass-through to food goods and food services prices, they have little impact on non-food core inflation. Both our model and the US Department of Agriculture's projections suggest that food prices should boost core inflation by roughly 0.05pp and headline inflation by about 0.15-0.2pp by end-2014. While ongoing droughts pose upside risk, a reversal of recent increases in grain prices--in line with our Commodity strategists' forecast--poses downside risk.


Looking ahead, we do not expect the recent spike in agricultural prices to continue through 2014. Our Commodities research group expects prices for wheat, soybeans, and corn to fall later in 2014, and our food equity analysts expect their Cost of Goods Sold Index to rise only moderately this year. Projections from the US Department of Agriculture point to roughly 2.5-3.5% growth in both food goods and food services prices, a bit higher than our model would predict if the Agriculture Index were to remain flat from its current level.


If the USDA forecast proves correct, it would imply that food prices will contribute about 0.19pp year-over-year to core PCE inflation by end-2014 (vs. 0.13 as of February), 0.39pp to headline PCE inflation (vs. 0.17), and 0.45pp to headline CPI inflation (vs. 0.21). Overall, we expect higher agricultural commodity prices to contribute about 0.2pp to headline PCE inflation and about 0.05pp to core PCE inflation. Food goods and services prices could of course also rise for unrelated reasons as the labor market tightens and new state minimum wage laws take effect.


In terms of risks to our forecast, further tensions in Ukraine or worse-than-expected drought effects pose upside risk, while declines in grain prices expected by our Commodities team pose downside risks. In addition, the forecast for an El Niño weather pattern developing this summer creates additional upside risk to soft commodity prices (palm oil, cocoa, coffee, sugar) and to a lesser extent to wheat prices. However, the El Niño weather pattern is also typically favorable to US summer growing conditions, which would create downside risk to our Commodity strategists' already-bearish forecasts for these crops, which are among the largest components of the S&P GSCI Agriculture Index.

In other words, as we also predicted previously, soon everything will be El Nino's, aka the "Solar Vortex" fault. As for Goldman's statistical model saying that all should be well, who are we to dispute it.

In the meantime here is a completely different view, one actually somewhat grounded in non-model reality, from IHS Global via Bloomberg:

Limited inventory of cattle and other herds contributing to rising costs this quarter, Chris Christopher, economist at IHS Global, writes in note.

Rising prices “a kick in the stomach for those households that have a hard time making ends meet.”  “Main story” of March CPI was food, with meat, dairy and fresh vegetables contributing to higher costs. Outside of food, inflation "relatively bland." However, "living standards will suffer as a larger percentage of household budgets are spent on grocery store bills, leaving less for discretionary spending."

But... core inflation will be untouched. Goldman's model said so. Which means nobody be concerned: certainly not Goldman partners and their live-in chefs.

The one thing that the two agree on, however, is that food inflation is surging. However there is good news:


One thing is not quite clear - whose households? Dimon's and Blankfein's?