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Economy in Brief

France: the Developing Inflation Cycle Bends Lower
by Robert Brusca  August 31, 2022

The French statistical agency has released its preliminary HICP estimate for August; the month shows a flat inflation performance compared to July. Unfortunately, August shows only the observation on French inflation for the headline. We really can't dig into the details on why things changed that much in August compared to July. However, the headline shows the 12-month inflation rate in August dipped to 6.5% from July's 6.8%. For France in August the year-on-year inflation rate is decelerating. And the gain of 6.5% year-over-year in compares to a 2.4% pace in August one year ago. While inflation was excessive a year ago, it was excessive in a moderate sense. This makes it clear that the overshoot from inflation is really a recent phenomenon with these very high inflation rates reflecting events mostly over the last 12 months. Sequentially inflation now shows a 6.5% pace over 12 months, a 7.6% pace over six months and a lower 5.7% pace over three months. That is the new August profile.

Trends as of July
The rest of the table concerns how French inflation looks at the up-to-date statistics through July and earlier. In July, the core rate had increased by 0.8% from June's 0.2%, an acceleration even as the headline had cooled to a 0.5% July gain compared to 0.8% in June.

The sequential calculations on the HICP core show inflation have accelerated from a 4.3% pace over 12 months to 5.8% over six months to 6.2% over three months. On that same timeline, the CPI excluding energy for France accelerated from 4% over 12 months to 5.4% over six months to 5.6% over three months-roughly like the core path in the HICP framework. The CPI headline for France is on the same time dimension in the other data in the table, except of course for the headline of the HICP.

The headline of the CPI shows both acceleration and the deceleration. The 6% annual gain over 12 months accelerates to 8.4% over six months then it decelerates to 7.5% over three months. This, of course, is a contrary pattern to both core measures both of which are in the same timeline as the CPI headline.

The French domestic CPI could be translating the recent weakness in Brent oil prices into a somewhat slower headline gains for the CPI. Brent prices have decelerated over the three months ended in July, rising only at a 12.8% annual rate after rising at a 72% annual rate over six months and at a 61% annual rate over 12 months. In fact, in July the month-to-month change in the price of Brent expressed in euros fell by 10.8%. One thing all central banks are looking forward to is getting some relief on their inflation from what has been weakening energy prices even though the longer-run outlook for energy remains quite difficult as many countries have stuck to their ‘Green agendas' despite the pain of it. In the euro area, there is added concern about energy supplies let alone price.

In the most recent month for which we have detailed data (i.e., July 2022), we see declines in three categories among the 11 detailed and the CPI report. Prices fall month-to-month for healthcare, transportation, and communications. Healthcare prices have been weak for some time in France; they fell by 0.6% over the last year and in the previous 12-month period they had fallen by 1.7%. This is a structural change in healthcare prices. Transportation prices fell by 0.4% in July after rising by 3.3% in June; they have been ramping up at a double-digit pace over three months, six months and 12 months because of the contribution to energy costs from rising energy prices. Communication goods include a lot of technology. Technology alone helps to moderate communications prices; those prices are up by 0.1% over 12 months and up by 1.9% in the previous 12 months. In addition to their fall in July, communication prices were flat in June.

France saw some inflation pressures too. Month-to-month inflation for restaurant & hotel prices rose by 1.8% in July after rising 0.4% in June. Food prices are still strong rising at 1.3% month-to-month after June's 1.3% rise. Food price gains are still in double digits over three months and accelerating. Restaurant & hotel prices are also in double digits over three months and six months, and they also are accelerating. This reflects the return by consumers to the restaurant and hotel sector after COVID had essentially redlined that sector for a prolonged period.

Summing up
Inflation in France is still stubborn and it's hard to know too much about August because we only have the headline; but the headline break has also come with some further weakness in energy prices. It is very likely we're going to see energy as one of the important contributing factors to inflation weakness in August. The outlook is still very guarded because the energy sector is still so uncertain and globally food prices continue to show great deal of pressure and we see the food price component in the French CPI still showing pressure and rising. Of course, the ECB is attacking inflation and raising rates, but it is constrained by concerns over what might happen to energy later in the year. Monetary policy in Europe continues to be an exercise in pragmatism while executing touch-and-go progress, even though inflation continues to run well over the central bank's target. The ECB has been painted into a corner by events and it will be very difficult corner to get out of. It doesn't have any choice but to wait and its options are poor.

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