The Financial Times today carried an article entitled "Japan Inflation Rises to Highest in Nearly Five Years." Core inflation in Japan reached -0.1%, which is actually the highest since early 2009, so not quite five years (see chart below). More importantly, however, the year-on-year figures are near the highest in the last decade-plus, with base effects likely to push core inflation above zero in the near future.
Source: Enduring Investments.
This should be shocking to no one, since Japanese M2 growth recently reached the highest year-on-year growth level since -- wait for it -- 1999, and is now actually growing slightly faster than European money supply for the first time in a long, long time. Because, you see, money growth is intimately related to inflation. News flash! But the Japanese have only just begun to increase their money supply, and it is going to go a lot higher. As will inflation in Japan.
Now, here's the conundrum of the day. If the Japanese pat themselves on the back because they are near to exorcising the deflation demon with quantitative easing, then how can Bernanke, Yellen, Summers, et al. be so confident that our QE will not increase inflation? It can't be the case that QE is effective at ending deflation (which was one benefit that Bernanke trumpeted in the past, too), but doesn't tend to increase inflation. Well, I suppose it can be the case, but it would be quite weird.
The difference between the U.S. and Japanese response to money growth over the last few years is that money velocity in the U.S. has been declining with interest rates, while the Japanese already had rates so low that velocity had nowhere to go but up. As I have noted previously, even if velocity in the U.S. merely levels out, 7% money growth will produce an uncomfortable rise in inflation.
So before settling into the belief, as Summers has expressed, that quantitative easing has "few harmful side effects," it seems to me that we ought to reflect on the Japanese QE example.