This blog has frequently drawn attention to the extremely close correlation between China’s consumer inflation (CPI) trends and world commodity prices – Figure 1. It is world commodity prices, rather than monetary data, which provides the best indicator of China’s inflation trends. In that light how is China’s 3.6% CPI figure for March to be analysed? As China’s inflation trend is a major determinant of China’s ability, or otherwise, to pursue expansionary economic policies this is a major issue not only for that country but for the world economy.
It is evident China’s CPI is not powerful enough to drive world commodity prices. The correlation between the two indicators therefore necessarily shows either, or both, that world commodity prices determine China’s CPI shifts, or more probably that some third factor, for example overall global economic trends, determines both. In either case China’s CPI would be expected to follow trends in global commodity prices.
In that light China’s 3.6% CPI for March is not particularly surprising. Despite the monthly increase from 3.2% in February the overall downward trend in China’s inflation continues – Figure 2. The 3.6% CPI figure in March is a decline of almost half since the 6.5% peak in July 2011 and is within the government’s 4.0% target.
The fact that March saw an upward tick within a descending trend of China’s inflation is in line with the fact that, as this blog has analysed, world commodity prices stopped falling between December and the end of March – Figure 3. This, as was noted here, was likely to slow the decline of China’s inflation rate and therefore the March figure was not highly surprising. What is significant, however, is that late in March and so far in April a new downturn in international commodity prices started, probably under the impact of softening in the global economy – Figure 3. If that downturn continues then, as analysed here, it would be expected that China’s CPI would start to decline again.
Therefore, to have a perspective on China’s economy, world commodity prices and China’s CPI in April must be watched closely. If global commodity price changes continue their downwards trend it would also be anticipated, on the basis of existing trends, that China’s CPI will also fall – creating further room for expansionary policies. If world commodity prices were to fall, but China’s CPI did not, it would indicate that existing correlations between global commodity prices and China’s CPI no longer held.
April will therefore be a significant month not only for China’s economy but for the theoretical analysis of it.