The following chart prepared recently by JPMorgan demonstrates something rather scary, and makes it all too clear how the Chairman’s plan to “assist” the US population via some imaginary “wealth effect” due to QE2, is about to backfire. As is now becoming very evident, the prices of energy and food products are about to surge, and in many cases have already done so, but courtesy of some clever gimmicks (Wal Mart selling what was formerly 39 oz of coffee as a 33.9 oz product for example) the end consumers haven’t quite felt it yet. They will soon.
There is a limit to how much every commodity can open limit up before it appears on the SKU price at one’s local grocer. And while a marginally declining “core CPI” is irrelevant for this exercise as it measures only items that are completely outside of the scope of everyday life, what will be far more important to end consumers will be the push higher in food and energy costs. The problem, however, is that for the lowest 20% of Americans, as per the BLS, food and energy purchases represent over 50% of their after-tax income (a number which drops to 10% for the wealthiest twenty percentile). In other words should rampant liquidity end up pushing food and energy prices to double (something that is a distinct possibility currently), Ben Bernanke may have very well sentenced about 60 million Americans to a hungry and very cold winter, let alone having any resources to buy trinkets with the imaginary wealth effect which for over 80% of the US population will never come.
Here is how JPM explains the phenomenon:
When the Fed considers the possible consequences of a falling dollar resulting from QE2, it should perhaps focus on food and energy prices as much as on traditionally computed core inflation. First, the food/energy exposures of the lower 2 income quintiles are quite high (see chart). Second, the core CPI has a massive weight to “owner’s equivalent rent”, which suggests that the imputed cost of home occupancy has gone down. Unfortunately, this is not true for families living in homes that are underwater, and cannot move to take advantage of it (unless they choose to default and bear the consequences of doing so). Due to the housing mess, there has perhaps never been a time when traditionally computed core inflation as a way of measuring changes in the cost of things means less than it does right now.
Since nothing else appears to have jarred America from its prime time TV/iPad hypnosis yet, perhaps this is for the best, and a few hungry months in subzero temperatures is precisely what several tens of millions of Americans need to finally march on Constitution avenue.