Measuring Inflation: All Signs Pointing Up

Apr. 7.11 | About: iShares 7-10 (IEF)

Economist Mehmet Pasaogullari at the Cleveland Fed reviews inflation from several angles. If nothing else, he offers a timely reminder that there's more than one way to skin this statistical cat. Inflation comes in a variety of flavors. But while the numbers vary, there's a common trend afoot, he reports, noting that "all measures of short-term inflation expectations we have looked at show an upward trend since last summer."

Pasaogullari continues:

Some measures showed higher increases, and others were much more limited. Measures of longer-term inflation expectations have also risen in the last six months... However, most of the increase in the market-based measures happened in September and October 2010. The recent increases in food and energy prices have had limited, if any, effect on the long-term expectations. They seem to be well-anchored and are in line with their averages of the previous decade.

The question (as always) is whether the past is prologue? Looking for answers in real time is forever problematic. That said, the inflation forecast based on the yield spread between the nominal and inflation-indexed 10-year Treasuries has inched higher since Pasaogullari's essay was published on April 1. In fact, the Treasury market's inflation outlook is 2.57%, as of yesterday. That matches the previous peak, set back in early July 2008, when oil was near an all-time high.

(Click chart to enlarge)

The last time we hit 2.57%, the peak was short lived. Inflation expectations started falling, and crashed soon after. That's not likely to happen this time, of course. Why? The catalyst isn't likely to make a repeat performance. Massive financial crises of the type that hit the world in late-2008, fortunately, are rare. So what does that mean for the inflation trend this time? Stay tuned.