Capitalist economies achieve economic growth using inflation as the primary fuel. Low and steady inflation rates are essential for achieving target GDP each year. Not all commodities inflate steadily and proportionally. Disproportional inflation amongst different sectors leads to over and underpricing of commodities. Food and Energy are the most basic of necessities in today’s modern society. Understanding how food inflation affects the population and the overall economy will help us better understand the inflation trends and their consequences.
What is Food Inflation?
Inflation is the typical increase in prices of commodities and a decrease in the purchasing power of money over time. Inflation is required to motivate people to work better to be able to afford it. If prices were stagnant, the necessity to grow or earn more would cease, thus halting the growth of a nation on the macro level. When that happens, people will remain in their current financial state and would not progress. Hence, inflation is the “necessary evil” or the required fuel for capitalist countries to achieve economic growth.
Food Inflation refers to the general increase in prices of food commodities. As prices inflate, our current income’s purchasing power erodes. Food and Energy are the necessities for us in this modern society. Although to some extent, Energy can be cut back on to get on with life, we cannot cut back on food.
Food is the fundamental right to every human being. Accessibility and affordability to food and water is a must for every individual regardless of their country. Food inflation monitors the affordability aspect of food within the nation; the consequences associated with it are more intricate than we might anticipate.
How can the Food Inflation numbers be used for analysis?
As people can procure fewer goods for a unit of currency over time, people can either cut back on expenses or earn more to compensate for inflation. Food expenses are mandatory expenditure part of income. High food inflation will take up a more substantial chunk out of the disposable income of individuals leaving less room for discretionary spending.
As the affordability of food decreases due to high food inflation, consumer spending is negatively affected. Consumer Spending is the primary component of GDP accounting for more than two-thirds of the nation’s GDP. In the same case, more people who are working on minimum wages find it more difficult to afford food and would be below the poverty line even when their wages are not.
Political implications would also be severe. The backlash from the public over Government’s inadequacy to control inflation would be severe and, at times, have led to strikes and bans in many countries over the years. The Government at such times faces severe criticism both from the public and the opposition parties and would likely lose the next elections.
Food inflation could also occur due to adverse weather conditions destroying crops, or mismanagement of supply and demand by the authorities, or even politically manipulating supply and demand for profit by local dealers. There have been incidents where supplies of grains were withheld to boost up the prices for better profits artificially.
In developing countries, there are incidents where Government-issued rations are also sold illegally for profit by some corrupt groups. Lack of proper support to farmers in terms of resources like electricity, water, seeds, loans could also impair them to produce a good yield. All such factors add to food inflation, whose burden falls upon the ordinary people.
It is necessary to understand that all other commodities excluding Food and Energy generally have at least some alternatives (or different brands) to choose from in case price inflates. For instance, people looking to buy clothes from a brand may switch to another brand to avoid paying the new inflated price. Food inflation effect cannot be avoided as quickly as was the previous case.
Government officials closely monitor the inflation levels and are politically committed to keeping inflation in check through fiscal and monetary levers at their dispense. Food and Energy prices are given special attention, and almost all the time, the response is quick and practical from the Government during times of disruption in the food supply.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries’ governments released relief packages to make sure there is no food shortage. Despite the fact many people slipped through the cracks of these protection measures, nonetheless, Governments did everything they could to avoid starvation.
Impact on Currency
Food inflation is part of overall consumer inflation. Consumer inflation is the primary macroeconomic indicator for currency traders to assess relative inflation amongst currency pairs. Hence, food inflation is overlooked by currency traders for the broader inflation measures like the Consumer Price Index (CPI) or Personal Consumption Expenditure (PCE).
Nonetheless, food inflation is beneficial for the government officials to keep it in check all the time and also for the economic analysts to report the same. Overall, food inflation is a low-impact coincident indicator in macroeconomic analysis for currency trading that is overlooked for broader inflation measuring statistics, as mentioned before.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes monthly inflation statistics as part of its Consumer Price Index report for the United States. This report has the food inflation statistics as the first criteria.
The St. Louis FRED also maintains the inflation statistics on its website and has many other tools to add to our analysis.
Sources of Food Inflation
Consumer Price Index from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics is available on its official website along with monthly updates.
We can find the same indexes along with many others with a comprehensive summary and statistics on the St. Louis FRED website.
We can find the global food inflation statistics of most countries on Trading Economics.
How Food Inflation Data Release Affects The Price Charts
In the US, the food inflation data is released simultaneously with the overall consumer price index (CPI) data. The data is released monthly about 16 days after the month ends. The most recent release was on August 12, 2020, at 8.30 AM ET and can be accessed at Investing.com here. A more in-depth review of the monthly report can be accessed at the US Bureau of Labor Statistics website.
It is worth noting that since the food inflation numbers are released together with the over CPI, it will be challenging to determine the effect it has on price action.
The screengrab below is of the monthly CPI from Investing.com. On the right, is a legend that indicates the level of impact the Fundamental Indicator has on the USD.
As can be seen, the CPI data is expected to have a medium impact on the USD upon its release.
The screengrab below shows the most recent changes in the monthly CPI data in the US. In July 2020, the monthly CPI increased by 0.6% better than analysts’ expectations of a 0.3% change. This positive change is therefore expected to make the USD stronger compared to other currencies.
Now, let’s see how this release made an impact on the Forex price charts.
EUR/USD: Before Monthly CPI Release on August 12, 2020, Just Before 8.30 AM ET
As can be seen from the above 15-minute chart, the EUR/USD pair was on a steady uptrend before the inflation news release. Bullish candles are forming above a steeply rising 20-period Moving Average, indicating the dollar was weakening before the release. Immediately before the news release, the uptrend can be seen to be weakening.
EUR/USD: After Monthly CPI Release on August 12, 2020, 8.30 AM ET
After the news release, the pair formed a 15-minute bullish candle. Contrary to the expectations, the USD became weaker against the EUR since the pair continued to trade in the previously observed uptrend.
Now let’s see how this news release impacted other major currency pairs.
AUD/USD: Before Monthly CPI Release on August 12, 2020, Just Before 8.30 AM ET
The AUD/USD pair shows a similar trading pattern as the EUR/USD before the inflation news release. The pair is on an uptrend, which heads for a neutral trend immediately before the news release.
AUD/USD: After Monthly CPI Release on August 12, 2020, 8.30 AM ET
As observed with the EUR/USD pair, the AUD/USD formed a bullish 15-minute candle after the news release. Afterward, the pair traded in a renewed uptrend with the 20-period Moving Average steeply rising.
NZD/USD: Before Monthly CPI Release on August 12, 2020, Just Before 8.30 AM ET
NZD/USD: After Monthly CPI Release on August 12, 2020, 8.30 AM ET
Unlike the EUR/USD and the AUD/USD pairs, the NZD/USD traded within a subdued neutral trend with an observable downtrend immediately before the news release. However, after the news release, the pair formed a 15-minute bullish candle and traded in a steady uptrend, as seen with the other pairs.
In theory, a positive CPI data should be followed by an appreciating USD. From the above analyses, however, the positive news release resulted in the weakening of the USD. This phenomenon can be choked to the effects of the coronavirus expectations, which have made fundamental indicators less reliable.