Morgan Stanley
  • Thoughts on the Market Podcast
  • Sep 18, 2023

The ECB, The Fed and Oil Prices


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Seth Carpenter, Global Chief Economist for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, today I'll be talking about the debate around oil price effects on inflation and growth, and what it means for central banks. It's Monday, September 18th at 10 a.m. in New York.

Last week, the European Central Bank raised its policy rate again. We had expected them to leave rates unchanged, but President Lagarde reiterated that inflation is too high and that the Governing Council is committed to returning inflation to target. She specifically referenced oil among rising commodity prices that pose an upside risk to inflation. From the summer lows of around $70 per barrel, the price of Brent oil has risen to over $93 a barrel. How much should oil prices figure in to the macro debate?

In previous research our economics team has tried to quantify the pass through of oil prices to inflation and different economies. Our takeaway is that for developed market economies, the pass through from oil prices to even headline inflation tends to be modest on average. In the quarter, following a 10% increase in oil prices, headline inflation rises about 20 basis points on average. For the euro area in particular, we have estimated that an increase like we have seen of $20 a barrel should result in about a 50 basis point increase in headline inflation. For core inflation the pass through tends to be less, about 35 basis points. Especially given the starting point though, such a rise is not negligible, but the effect should fade over time. Either the price of oil will retreat or over the next year the base effects will fall out.

But energy prices can also affect spending. Recent research from the Fed estimates the effects of oil prices on consumption and GDP across countries. They estimate that a 10% increase in oil prices depresses consumption spending in the euro area by about 23 basis points. What's the mechanism through which oil price shocks affect consumption? Consumer demand for energy tends to be somewhat inelastic. That is, it's harder to substitute away from buying energy than other categories of spending.

So back to the ECB, we had not expected them to hike rates, but we did think it was a close call. Core inflation had started to come down, and when it became clear that core services inflation that peaked and was drifting lower against a backdrop of signs pointing to a weaker euro area economy, we revised our call to no hike. So from our perspective, the ECB has increased the risk of hiking perhaps too much based on headline inflation. The ECB statement last week noted that inflation "is still expected to remain high for too long", but because it seems that they are now done hiking, the debate is going to turn to the duration of this so-called "higher for longer" with the policy rate. With the effects of inflation passing over time, but the drag of GDP showing up over the next few quarters, we get more comfortable expecting rate cuts there as early as June next year.

The Fed is meeting this week and the last US CPI print showed headline inflation boosted by higher gasoline prices. Sound familiar? Well, our colleagues in the U.S. team have stressed that the Fed will likely look through the non core inflation. And, as in Europe, the increases in oil prices should lower purchasing power for consumers in the near term, further limiting economic activity and that is part of the objective of higher policy rates right now. With the Fed's focus on core rather than headline inflation, the last data print gives more reason to think the Fed is done hiking. Taking the last CPI print and combining it with last week's data from the Producer Price Index, you can infer a monthly rate of 0.14% for core PCE inflation in August. When the Federal Open Market Committee revisits its June economic projections, they will essentially be forced to revise down their forecasts for core inflation for this year.

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While the European Central Bank responded to headline inflation last week by raising policy rates yet again, the U.S. Federal Reserve meeting this week may be more focused on core inflation and a hiking pause.