Low Inflation Tests World’s Central Banks

12/18/13
 
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from The Wall Street Journal,
12/17/13:

Subdued Prices Persist Despite Years of Easy Money; Deflation Still a Threat.

Inflation is slowing across the developed world despite ultralow interest rates and unprecedented money-printing campaigns, posing a dilemma for the Federal Reserve and other major central banks as they plot their next policy moves.

U.S. consumer prices rose just 1.2% in November from a year earlier, according to Labor Department data released Tuesday. The subdued price data came as the Fed opened a two-day policy meeting at which the fate of its $85 billion-a-month bond-buying program—an effort to hold down long-term interest rates and drive up the value of homes, stocks and other assets—is a central focus.

Meanwhile, annual inflation in the euro zone was 0.9% in November, the European Union’s statistics office said Tuesday. And central banks in Sweden and Hungary cut interest rates, the latest efforts elsewhere in Europe to boost struggling economies as inflation remains low.

The downward pressure on prices presents a conundrum for policy makers across advanced economies: Should they respond with even easier monetary policy or dismiss it as a temporary development?

Central bankers worry about inflation falling too low because it raises the risk of deflation, or generally falling prices, a phenomenon that is difficult to combat through monetary policy. Some economists believe weak or falling prices can lead consumers to delay major purchases, exacerbating an economic slowdown. Even without deflation, very low inflation can be a sign of weak demand that weighs on wages, corporate profits and growth.

“We’re in a world where there’s still a tremendous amount of economic slack,” said Joseph Lupton, a global economist at J.P. Morgan Chase. “A return to growth is not a return to health. There’s a long way to go here, which is why central banks in places like the U.S., U.K. and Japan are trying to get inflation up.”

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