Analysis: Central Bank’s inflation scenario affected by economic slack

In practice, this reflects stronger GDP expansion and lower-than-expected unemployment rate


Central Bank’s building in Brasília — Foto: Jorge William/Agência O Globo

Central Bank’s building in Brasília — Foto: Jorge William/Agência O Globo

It was not only supply shocks and other surprises that made the Central Bank revise upwards its inflation projections. There were also the impacts of the lower-than-estimated degree of economic slack and the higher neutral interest rate, according to the Inflation Report released by the monetary authority Thursday.

Since March, the Central Bank increased its inflation projection for 2022 by 2.5 percentage points to 8.8%. A good part of this increase is due to the war in Ukraine, which has caused the prices of oil and other commodities to surge and disrupted production chains due to China’s zero Covid policy.

But the revision in the inflation projections, to some extent, is due to the fact that the Central Bank overestimated the degree of economic slack at the beginning of the year.

In March, the monetary authority had estimated that the so-called output gap, a measure of the economic slack, would be 1.8% at the end of the first quarter. Thursday’s Inflation Report redoes this calculation and finds that, in fact, the slack was 1.1%.

From the point of view of the real sector of the economy, this is good news. In practice, it reflects stronger GDP expansion and a lower-than-expected unemployment rate. The Central Bank has increased its estimate for GDP in 2022 to 1.7% from 1%. But on the other hand, this means that economic slack has not been as strong a driver of lower inflation as expected.

In the second quarter, another surprise: the Central Bank estimated the economic slack at 2%, but according to the most recent estimate in Thursday’s report, it has been revised downwards to 1.3%. A good part of the consequences of this lower-than-expected slack is still expected to reach inflation, which reflects the output gap with a few quarters of delay.

Economic activity was stronger than expected, in part due to the reopening of the economy with vaccination and a lower number of deaths from Covid. But GDP data for earlier this year also reflect last year’s still expansionary monetary policy and fiscal expansion measures.

Another factor that contributed to increasing Central Bank’s inflation projections was the revision of the neutral interest rate. In its June meeting, the Central Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee (Copom) increased its view on the neutral interest rate to 4% from 3.5%.

The market had already revised its estimates to 4% by the end of 2021, due to the high fiscal risk amid tax-cutting measures and spending expansion during the election. But the Central Bank made the move in two stages, raising it to 3.5% from 3% in December, and now to 4%.

A consequence of this is that the economy has seen, before the revision of the neutral rate, a monetary tightening lower than the one estimated by the Central Bank. The monetary tightening represents the difference between the real interest rates forecast by the market and the neutral interest rate.

In Thursday’s Inflation Report, the Copom says that the monetary tightening is lower than previously estimated, in March, until the first half of 2023, precisely because the neutral rate has risen. The tightening is higher in the second half of 2023, because the market now expects a higher Selic policy interest rate for the period.

In practical terms, this higher neutral interest rate leads to a higher inflation projection not only for 2022, but also for next year, which is the relevant horizon for monetary policy. The Central Bank has revised its inflation projection for 2023 by 0.9 percentage points, to 4%.

The Inflation Report says that other factors have also contributed to the rise in projected inflation this year, such as rising inertia and deteriorating inflation expectations. Inertia and expectations, in turn, may have been affected by inflationary surprises and higher price indexes in the short term. But they are also determined by the degree of monetary tightening and the level of economic slack, as well as fiscal uncertainty.

*By Alex Ribeiro — São Paulo

Source: Valor International