Get Ready for More Coronavirus Disinflation, at Least in the Short Run

Online inflation as measured by the MIT Billion Prices Project/PriceStats, which tracks prices in real time on a daily basis on websites such as Amazon.com, has continued to fall throughout the month of May, even going slightly negative (implying some deflation). How can such disinflation be possible, given that the Federal Reserve has expanded its balance sheet by trillions of dollars over just the past few weeks, and that the coronavirus has distorted global supply chains, causing shortages?

What one game show reveals about the American economy

Since 1972 Americans have sat through more than 9,000 episodes of “The Price is Right”, a game show with an economic twist. After being summoned from the audience by the famous catchphrase—“come on down”—contestants must guess the exact price of prizes, ranging from guitars to garden furniture. Contestants have got a lot worse at guessing prices. Why?

Brookings – “Hutchins Roundup: State estate taxes, occupational licensing, and more”

Since 2018, the U.S. has imposed import tariffs ranging from 10 to 50 percent on goods from China. Using data collected at the border and at retailers, Alberto Cavallo of Harvard University and coauthors estimate that, on average, foreign exporters have passed 92% of the cost of the tariffs on to U.S businesses in the form of higher prices.

The New York Times – “Trump’s China Deal Leaves the Global Economy as Uncertain as Ever”

President Trump’s trade truce with China may have temporarily cooled tensions between the world’s two largest economies. Anew paper by researchers at Harvard University, the University of Chicago and the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston suggests that businesses and consumers in the United States are feeling an impact from the trade fight and that the pain could escalate.

The Economist – “Technology is making inflation statistics an unreliable guide to the economy”

Amazon is used to fielding accusations: that it has killed off physical retail business, that it mistreats warehouse workers, that it abuses its dominant platform in online sales. So perhaps it is not a surprise that some people also blame it for low inflation. In 2017 Janet Yellen, then chair of the Federal Reserve, wondered aloud if cut-throat online competition might be stopping goods-producers raising prices even in a world of rising demand. Alberto Cavallo of Harvard Business School has found that Amazon’s prices are 6% lower than those of eight large retailers, and 5% lower than on those retailers’ websites.

BBC News – “Trump’s tariffs puts Apple’s golden goose at risk”

Donald Trump has threatened to impose a sweeping new round of trade tariffs against imports from China. According to analysis by Reuters, it would mean 92% of hardware sold by Apple would face levies.
If the tariffs are indeed imposed in December, it could mean several outcomes – none of which Apple will be particularly keen on, explained Alberto Cavallo, an associate professor at Harvard Business School.

Today – “Get smart about shopping online and save money”

The reality is that offline and online price levels are identical about 72 per cent of the time. The figure is based on a study by Harvard Business School’s Associate Professor Alberto Cavallo, whose research covered 24,000 products in 10 countries, including Australia, China and Japan.
Drugstores and office-product retailers have the lowest share of identical prices, while electronics and clothing stores have the most.  

The Times – “Dynamic pricing may look like a rip-off but has benefits for us all”

Weimar! Zimbabwe! These were the historical precedents genuinely expressed a decade ago about what an unprecedented experiment in monetary policy would do to advanced industrial economies. A huge expansion of the money supply, through quantitative easing, and near-zero interest rates might be an immediate palliative in a deep recession but they’d spark an inflationary crisis later on. And high inflation wipes out savings and destroys living standards.

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