Why Has Retail Inflation Been So Low?

Transcript

1 Why Has Retail Inflation Been So Low? Alexander Ballantyne and Sean Langcake* Inflation in the price of retail goods has been surprisingly low for a number of years. The considerable depreciation of the Australian dollar over this period by itself would typically have led to higher retail inflation. This article considers whether the direct relationship between the exchange rate and retail inflation has changed, or if other developments in the retail supply chain can account for recent trends in retail inflation. There is little statistical evidence that the relationship between the exchange rate and retail inflation has changed. Discussions with retailers in the Reserve Bank’s business liaison program suggest that an intensification of competition in the retail sector and firms’ efforts to reduce costs along their supply chain are likely to have contributed to low retail inflation. of tradable items, particularly retail goods, tend to Introduction be heavily influenced by the exchange rate as they Retail goods in the consumer price index (CPI) are either imported or exposed to international include consumer durable goods, such as clothing, competition. Indeed, prior to 2010, retail inflation footwear and household appliances, as well as moved relatively closely with changes in the import- 1 food and alcohol (Graph 1). These items account weighted exchange rate (Graph 2). However, since for around 30 per cent of the total CPI basket and 2010, retail inflation has been lower than expected, around 60 per cent of tradable items. The prices given the depreciation of the exchange rate since 2013. This suggests that either the nature of Graph 1 exchange rate pass-through may have changed or Components of Retail Inflation* % % Consumer Consumer durables durables other factors have been placing downward pressure 2 2 2 on the prices of these items. This article explores potential reasons for this surprising weakness in 0 0 retail inflation, focussing on the role of exchange -2 -2 Year -ended rate pass-through and utilising information from % % & alcohol Food Food & alcohol the Bank’s business liaison program to gain a 2016 2011 2006 2001 1996 6 6 better understanding of other factors that may be 3 influencing prices in the retail sector. 3 3 0 0 Quarterly (seasonally adjusted) For previous discussion of this divergence, see RBA (2013). 2 -3 -3 2001 2016 1996 2011 2006 3 The Reserve Bank business liaison team conducts around * Adjusted for the tax changes of 1999–2000 70–80 discussions with contacts on a monthly basis. Discussions Sources: ABS; RBA with any individual firm typically occur around every 6 to 12 months. Bank staff usually meet the chief executive officer, chief financial officer and/or operations manager. Liaison meetings are held with * The authors are from Economic Analysis Department and thank firms of all sizes, although most discussions are with mid-sized and Rosetta Dollman for valuable input to this article. large firms where conditions are more likely to reflect economy-wide Fruit and vegetables are excluded in this article, as quarterly price 1 trends rather than firm-specific factors. For more information, see movements in these items are especially volatile. RBA (2014). 9 | BULLETIN JUNE QUARTER 2016 EC Bulletin.indb 9 10/06/2016 4:03 pm

2 WHY HAS RETAIL INFLATION BEEN SO LOW? estimated by using the Australian Bureau of Graph 2 Prices and the Exchange Rate Retail Statistics’ (ABS) input-output tables. ended percentage change Year- % % In 2012/13: -30 4 COGS contributed to just over half of the final • retail prices* Final ) (LHS sale price of retail goods, with this cost roughly 3 -20 equally split between domestically produced 2 -10 and imported goods (Graph 3). Changes in the exchange rate principally affect retail 0 1 prices through this part of the supply chain 10 0 (discussed below). • Wholesalers’ gross margins comprised 20 -1 Exchange rate** (RHS , inverted scale) 15 per cent of final sales prices, with just 30 -2 over 2 per cent representing wholesalers’ 2016 1996 2006 2011 2001 * Adjusted for the tax changes of 1999–2000 net margins. ** Import-weighted index, quarter average ABS; RBA Sources: Retailers’ gross margins accounted for the • remaining 34 per cent of the final sale price, The Cost Structure of Retail Goods with 6½ per cent retailers’ net margins and 13 per cent labour costs. D’Arcy, Norman and Shan (2012) describe a stylised version of the retail supply chain. Goods These contributions have been quite stable through are produced by manufacturers, either in Australia time and are comparable with earlier estimates or overseas, and transported to wholesalers. 2012). et al (D’Arcy Wholesalers distribute these goods to retailers; 4 Graph 3 retailers then sell them to consumers. Cost Structure of Retail Goods In this stylised process, the cost of getting retail Share of final sale price, 2012/13 % % margin Net goods to consumers has five major components. The price paid by the wholesaler, inclusive of Labour CODB any transport costs and tariffs, is the wholesaler’s 75 75 ‘cost of goods sold’ (COGS). The wholesaler incurs operating costs, including expenditure on staff, labour CODB Non- 50 50 rent, freight and the cost of holding inventory, Imported goods known as the wholesaler’s ‘cost of doing business’ (CODB). Additionally, the wholesaler applies a ‘net’ 25 25 Domestic goods or profit margin. As with the wholesalers, retailers face a range of operating costs (the retailer’s 0 0 Wholesalers’ Retailers’ COGS CODB), most significantly labour and rent costs, and gross margin margin gross charge a net margin. The sum of the wholesaler’s or Sources: ABS; RBA retailer’s CODB and net margin is their ‘gross margin’. Developments in each of these components have This analysis masks considerable differences in the an influence on final retail prices. The magnitude cost structure of different types of retail goods. of these costs in the retail supply chain can be Gross margins charged by distributors (wholesalers and retailers taken together) vary across products 4 This is a stylised process because in some cases wholesalers may and are determined by a range of factors, including sell directly to consumers, or retailers may bypass wholesalers and the extent of competition and the speed with directly source goods from manufacturers. RESERVE BANK OF AUSTRALIA 10 EC Bulletin.indb 10 10/06/2016 4:03 pm

3 WHY HAS RETAIL INFLATION BEEN SO LOW? 5 traded goods as well. Despite this, retail inflation has which distributors turn over stock (D’Arcy et al 2012; remained low, which raises the question of whether Graph 4). Therefore, changes in key determinants of costs, such as the exchange rate and wages, may pass-through of exchange rate movements into final prices has diminished in recent years. have varying effects across products. Nonetheless, it is possible to identify trends across retail goods as a The divergence between import prices and whole, and this framework can be used to examine final prices why retail inflation has been surprisingly low over the past five years or so. Exchange rate pass-through is usually considered in two stages: from movements in the exchange Graph 4 rate through to the Australian dollar cost of imports Distributors’ Gross Margins by Product Type Share of final sale price, 2012/13 (first stage); and from the cost of imports through % % to final consumer prices (second stage). Since the exchange rate began to depreciate in mid 2013, first-stage pass-through to imports of retail items 50 50 has been largely consistent with its historical 6 relationship (Graph 5). However, there appears to be a marked divergence between inflation 25 25 in import prices and final prices for retail goods beginning in 2010. This divergence may be consistent with a change in second-stage exchange rate pass-through, which 0 0 would indicate a change in firms’ responses to Clothing exchange rate movements. However, as discussed Furniture Average Footwear (all items) Electrical Domestic equipment appliances above, there is a range of costs other than imported Motor vehicles Food and COGS that contribute to retail inflation within the non-alcoholic drinks retail supply chain; movements in these costs could Sources: ABS;RBA also drive the divergence between import and final prices of retail goods. Hence, the relationship Has Exchange Rate Pass-through between import price inflation and retail inflation Changed? should be tested conditional on movements in The exchange rate has an important influence the other determinants to assess whether the on the prices of retail items. The cost of imports divergence is a change in second-stage exchange accounts for one-quarter of the value of retail goods A depreciation will also increase the (Australian dollar) export prices 5 and is typically priced in foreign currencies. As such, of domestically produced traded goods (which are priced in foreign movements in the exchange rate will affect the currencies), placing upward pressure on the price of these goods in Australia. These goods, such as meat, account for a small share of Australian dollar price that importers pay for these retail goods and hence upward pressure on retail goods from the items. Over the past few years, the Australian dollar depreciation of the exchange rate is mostly due to prices of imports. has depreciated by around 20 per cent on an import- This is in large part due to a mechanical relationship between import 6 prices and the exchange rate; retail goods imports invoiced in foreign weighted basis, which has placed upward pressure currencies are converted to Australian dollar terms at the current on COGS by making imports more expensive in exchange rate when measuring import prices. The data also capture changes in the foreign currency price of retail goods, reflecting price Australian dollar terms. All else equal, a depreciation movements driven by international developments unrelated to the of the exchange rate also increases foreign demand exchange rate. Chung, Kohler and Lewis (2011) find that a 10 per cent for domestically produced goods, placing upward depreciation in the exchange rate typically results in import prices increasing by around 8 per cent, and that most of this response occurs pressure on prices for domestically produced within the same quarter. These results hold over an extended sample. BULLETIN 11 | JUNE QUARTER 2016 EC Bulletin.indb 11 10/06/2016 4:03 pm

4 WHY HAS RETAIL INFLATION BEEN SO LOW? the broader macroeconomic context in which the Graph 5 Exchange Rate Pass-through retail sector operates. ended percentage change Year- % % Although the model captures several principal First -stage pass-through -20 20 drivers of retail inflation, other potentially important 10 -10 costs identified in the stylised supply chain import prices Retail (LHS) presented earlier are omitted, such as non-labour 0 0 CODB and net margins of retailers and wholesalers. -10 10 Limited data are available on these other costs and -20 20 rate * Exchange (RHS, inverted scale) are neither timely nor granular enough to provide a % % Second-stage pass-through clear explanation for the relatively low retail inflation 20 6 of late. If inflation in these costs is relatively stable 10 4 over time, then this will be captured by a constant 2 0 term in the model. However, if these costs change 0 -10 7 over time, the model will tend to exhibit bias. (RHS) Final retail prices** -20 -2 This simple model can be used to test for changes -4 -30 in the relationships between the explanatory 2004 2000 2016 2012 2008 * Import-weighted index, quarter average variables and retail inflation. These tests find no ** Adjusted for the tax changes of 1999–2000 statistical evidence of a change in the coefficients ABS; RBA Sources: on import prices in late 2010. This suggests that rate pass-through or something else. That is, the the response of retail inflation to changes in import effects of movements in the exchange rate need to prices (and hence to the exchange rate) after be disentangled from movements in other costs. 2010 are consistent with the relationship prior This can be done by utilising a basic econometric 8 to that time. In contrast, the tests find evidence model of retail inflation. of a statistically significant break in late 2010 for the constant term, the coefficients on inflation Testing for breaks in the determinants of expectations and ULC growth individually, and for retail inflation 9 all variables jointly (Table B1). To assess whether second-stage pass-through In summary, the results are consistent with a break has changed, a model is estimated in which retail in the dynamics of retail inflation in late 2010, but a inflation is explained by: growth in the cost of break at this date is unlikely to be due to a change labour needed to produce a unit of output (unit in exchange rate pass-through. labour costs (ULCs)); import price inflation; and inflation expectations (see Appendix A for details). To the extent that any omitted variables are correlated with the 7 Although movements in the exchange rate can explanatory variables included in the regression, the estimates have a considerable impact on the final prices will be biased. It is possible that breaks identified in the modelled relationships could be driven by changes in the relationship of retail goods, they usually take some time to between an omitted variable and retail inflation. pass through supply chains. To account for this, 8 Quandt-Andrews tests trim a proportion of the data at the beginning the model includes several lags of import prices. and end of the model sample, where there are not enough observations to correctly estimate the test. This means the test The inclusion of inflation expectations in the sample does not include the period since the exchange rate began model captures the expected balance of supply to depreciate in 2013. Thus, the tests cannot determine whether and demand conditions. Because ULC growth, the response of retail inflation to the recent depreciation of the exchange rate is consistent with the historical relationship. import prices, and inflation expectations are -values for each of these tests indicate a less than 1 per cent p 9 The affected by international and domestic economic chance of the observed data being consistent with there being no developments, the model should also account for break at the corresponding date. RESERVE BANK OF AUSTRALIA 12

5 WHY HAS RETAIL INFLATION BEEN SO LOW? to 1 from December quarter 2010 onwards, and What has changed in retail inflation? 0 beforehand. The dummy variable captures the Given that the direct relationship between retail downward shift in retail inflation since late 2010, and inflation and the exchange rate does not appear to markedly improves the fit of the model to the data have changed, this raises the question of whether (Graph 6). The estimated coefficient on the dummy changes in relationships with other variables can variable is large, suggesting that retail inflation has explain the lower-than-expected retail inflation been more than 1½ percentage points lower in outcomes since late 2010. To investigate this, the year-ended terms (on average) since the December model of retail inflation is estimated over a shorter 10 quarter 2010. This suggests that variables not sample that ends prior to December quarter 2010 included in the model – such as domestic COGS, and the results are compared with the same model non-labour CODB or net margins – have been estimated over the full sample. The difference in the weighing on retail inflation, but it does not provide model coefficients estimated over the two samples any insight into exactly which they might be. Nor shows that the response of retail inflation to ULC does it imply that their effect on retail inflation will growth and inflation expectations is broadly similar be permanent. before and after December quarter 2010 (Table 1). Therefore, although the tests found statistical Graph 6 evidence of a change in the relationships for these Retail Inflation* Year-ended variables, the economic significance of this change % % Actual appears to be small. 4 4 In contrast, the coefficient on the constant term, 2 2 which is the average rate of retail inflation once 0 0 movements in the other variables have been Original model controlled for, is markedly different over the short % % Dummy model sample. In particular, since late 2010 there has 4 4 been a large downward shift in the average rate of 2 2 retail inflation that cannot be attributed to inflation 0 0 expectations, ULC growth or import prices. -2 -2 A break in the constant term can be remedied by 1991 1996 2001 2006 2011 2016 * Adjusted for the tax changes of 1999–2000 the inclusion of a dummy variable that is equal ABS; Authors’ calculations Sources: (a) Table 1: Retail Inflation Model Coefficients in Different Specifications Percentage point change in quarterly retail inflation associated with a 1 percentage point change in variable (b) (c) (b) Dummy model Short sample Original model –0.06 Constant –0.07 –0.24** Inflation expectations 0.12*** 0.09*** 0.10*** (d) 0.17** 0.18*** 0.15** ULC growth (d) 0.17*** 0.18*** 0.17*** Import prices Dummy –0.39*** (a) ***, ** and * represent statistical significance at the 1, 5 and 10 per cent level, respectively, using Newey-West standard errors (b) Estimated over 1990:Q1–2016:Q1 (c) Estimated over 1990:Q1–2010:Q3 Coefficients shown are the sum of the lags (d) Sources: ABS; Authors’ calculations The dummy subtracts 0.4 percentage points from quarterly retail 10 inflation, which is over 1½ percentage points annually. 13 | BULLETIN JUNE QUARTER 2016 EC Bulletin.indb 13 10/06/2016 4:03 pm

6 WHY HAS RETAIL INFLATION BEEN SO LOW? pressures, although some key themes have Other Determinants of Retail Prices emerged from liaison. Given the limited data on other costs in the retail Technology has enabled consumers to compare • supply chain, such as changes in the non-labour retail prices quickly and easily online and CODB or wholesale and retail margins, insights from determine which retailer(s) are offering the the Banks’ business liaison program help to explain lowest prices. The increasing online presence potential reasons for lower-than-expected retail of traditional bricks-and-mortar retailers is goods inflation since 2010. contributing to this effect. The cost of goods sold • Relatedly, the supply of retailers has increased due to competition from foreign online retailers. Discussions with retailers across a range of market This was particularly evident over 2010–13 segments have confirmed that firms’ COGS have when the exchange rate was relatively high increased due to the depreciation of the exchange (Graph 7). Over this period, domestic retailers rate. Nevertheless, there have been some other became relatively less competitive against factors that have contributed to COGS inflation competitors based offshore. being somewhat weaker than the depreciation of • Both established firms and new entrants, the exchange rate alone would imply. including international retailers entering the • Lower global prices for commodities, such as Australian market, are competing aggressively cotton, base metals and oil, have lowered input to gain market share. costs for manufacturers and transportation In a number of market segments, liaison has costs over the past few years. attributed the increase in retail competition to Excess industrial capacity has placed downward • the actions of a perceived ‘market leader’, which pressure on manufactured goods prices in is generally looking to expand their market share, China (RBA 2016). effectively increasing supply. This has led a number • Some firms have been able to source imported of retailers to report that they believe demand for 11 products from lower-cost locations. their goods is very price sensitive, and fear that they Although these developments may be salient at will lose sales volumes if they increase prices. Earlier the firm level, it is difficult to identify them in the work on Australian retailers found that a majority data. In part, this could be because their effect on of firms primarily set prices based on the balance COGS is marginal relative to the large changes in of supply and demand factors, such as market the exchange rate over recent years. Retailers have conditions or competitors’ prices, rather than setting indicated that, in general, they have been unable or prices as a fixed mark-up over costs (Park, Rayner unwilling to change their prices to fully reflect COGS and D’Arcy 2010). inflation, indicating that there are other pressures in Most market segments experienced lower inflation the retail sector contributing to low inflation. from 2010 (Graph 7). The identification of a break in retail inflation in late 2010 coincides with the timing Retail competition of the Australian dollar reaching parity with the Liaison with retailers suggests that over the period US dollar. Liaison suggests that competition from of interest, competition in the retail sector has foreign sources was particularly pronounced at that intensified, partly due to increased supply. There are time, possibly due to the ease with which domestic numerous sources of this increase in competitive and foreign price differentials could be calculated. Distributors’ hedging cover has also helped delay the exchange rate 11 Since 2013, inflation has increased somewhat in effect on COGS, although this is a transitory effect that only mitigates most market segments, broadly consistent with the timing of COGS inflation, and not the magnitude. RESERVE BANK OF AUSTRALIA 14 EC Bulletin.indb 14 10/06/2016 4:03 pm

7 WHY HAS RETAIL INFLATION BEEN SO LOW? retail goods inflation. This implies a compression of Graph 7 The Australian Dollar and Retail Inflation distributors’ gross margins. To maintain profitability, Selected items retailers have had to adapt some of their business US$ US$ per A$, inverted scale* US$ 0.4 0.4 practices. 0.6 0.6 Some larger firms have lowered margins on each 0.8 0.8 1.0 1.0 product, but are selling higher volumes. This allows Period average % % firms to defray fixed costs and achieve greater ** & furnishings Furniture 6 6 economies of scale. This competitive pressure to 3 3 reduce margins in order to try to gain market share 0 0 -3 -3 has occurred over a period in which consumer demand has been relatively subdued, in part due % % Household appliances** 3 3 to weak income growth, making it more difficult for 0 0 firms to increase sales volumes (Graph 8). -3 -3 Graph 8 % % visual equipment** Audio Real Household Income and Consumption* 5 5 ended percentage change Year- 0 0 % % -5 -5 -10 -10 Consumption % % Clothing & footwear** 2 2 5 5 0 0 -2 -2 -4 -4 % % Food & alcohol** 0 0 6 6 Disposable income** 4 4 2 2 -5 -5 0 0 2016 1991 2011 1996 2001 2006 2006 2011 2016 1996 2001 * Household sector includes unincorporated enterprises * Quarter average Disposable income is after tax and interest payments; income level ** ** Year-ended, adjusted for the tax changes of 1999–2000 smoothed with a two-quarter moving average between March quarter Sources: ABS; Bloomberg; RBA 2000 and March quarter 2002 ABS Sources: ; RBA the exchange rate depreciation. However, the data Liaison with retailers has also highlighted renewed indicate that the apparel sector is a clear exception. efforts by firms to find efficiencies to reduce their Liaison suggests that competition for market share CODB. Labour costs are around half of retailers’ between established firms and new foreign entrants CODB. Retailers have sought labour productivity has been particularly strong in this segment. gains through technological improvements, The data suggest that the effect of competitive such as contactless payments systems, self-serve pressures is likely to have restrained price inflation, checkouts and better monitoring of staffing needs. despite rising COGS. Firms have also sought to lower their CODB by Evolving business practices other means, such as bargaining for lower rents, improving inventory management, sourcing from Heightened retail competition and the depreciation fewer suppliers, partnering with other firms to of the exchange rate appear to have contributed to lower distribution costs and centralising some a situation whereby COGS inflation is higher than administration tasks. BULLETIN JUNE QUARTER 2016 15 | EC Bulletin.indb 15 10/06/2016 4:03 pm

8 WHY HAS RETAIL INFLATION BEEN SO LOW? Conclusion Appendix A The model of retail inflation is a distributed lag Retail inflation has been surprisingly weak for a number of years. There is little evidence of a model based on an expectations-augmented mark-up framework of consumer prices (for details, change in the direct relationship between the exchange rate and retail prices, and liaison with see Norman and Richards (2010)). The mark-up retailers suggests that the cost of goods sold has framework considers consumer prices as a indeed increased due to the depreciation of the proportional mark-up over costs, including unit exchange rate since 2013. Rather, retail inflation labour costs and import prices to reflect input costs. The basic specification used in this article is: appears to have been constrained by a range of 5 other developments in the retail supply chain. r e π α + Δ u l = α c + α π ∑ i 2, − t 1 1 − t 0 t i Intensification in retail competition, in part driven i = 1 8 by foreign entrants, has compressed gross margins, (A1) + p m Δ α μ + ∑ 3, t − j t j and firms have sought cost reductions, including = j 1 5 5 through labour productivity gains, to maintain e r e r α π α + α = u π Δ c + l where is quarterly retail inflation, is the constant + u Δ α α c π π = α l + ∑ ∑ t 1 0 2, i − t t − i 1 0 i 2, 1 t 1 i − − t t 5 profitability. These persistent developments = i 1 1 = i e r α = u π α l + c Δ π α + term, is inflation expectations as measured by ∑ t 1 − i t t 1 0 − i 2, 5 8 5 8 appear to have gone some way to offsetting the = i 1 r e r e u c π Δ + π = α α + l α Δ μ + p m α + the break-even rate on indexed bond yields for a l α π + α π + α Δ c = u + α + p μ m Δ ∑ ∑ t − t i 0 − 2, t 1 i 1 ∑ ∑ 3, t j − t j t 0 1 i t − − t i 2, 1 t t j 3, j − 5 8 rising cost of goods sold due to the exchange rate 1 = i j 1 = i = 1 j = 1 r e = α π π + α α + Δ u l c constant 10-year maturity, is unit labour costs (in μ + α p Δ m + ∑ ∑ t i 0 t t − i 1 1 2, − j t t j 3, − 8 8 depreciation in recent years. R 1 = i j 1 = μ + p m Δ α + log form), is import prices (in log form) and + Δ m α + p μ ∑ − t j 3, j t ∑ j t j 3, − t 8 j = 1 j 1 = is an error term. Δ + α m p + μ ∑ j − j 3, t t 1 j = Appendix B Table B1: Retail Inflation Model (a) Quandt-Andrews tests Corresponding date Maximum Wald F-statistic Corresponding p-value All variables 0.001 2010:Q3 47.9 Constant 36.6 0.000 2010:Q4 Inflation expectations 37.5 0.000 2010:Q4 (b) ULC growth 27.1 0.002 2010:Q4 (b) Import prices 0.538 2010:Q3 14.4 (a) Model sample 1990:Q1–2016:Q1; test sample 1994:Q1–2012:Q1 (i.e. 15 per cent sample trimming) All lags of variable jointly (b) Sources: ABS; Authors’ calculations 16 RESERVE BANK OF AUSTRALIA EC Bulletin.indb 16 10/06/2016 4:03 pm

9 WHY HAS RETAIL INFLATION BEEN SO LOW? References Chung E, M Kohler and C Lewis (2011), ‘The Exchange Rate and Consumer Prices’, RBA Bulletin , September, pp 9–16. D’Arcy P, D Norman and S Shan (2012) , ‘Costs and Margins in the Retail Supply Chain’, RBA Bulletin , June, pp 13–22. Norman D and A Richards (2010), ‘Modelling Inflation in Australia’, RBA Research Discussion Paper No 2010-03. Park A, V Rayner and P D’Arcy (2010), ‘Price-setting Behaviour – Insights from Australian Firms’, RBA Bulletin , June, pp 7–14. , ‘Box B: The RBA (Reserve Bank of Australia) (2013) Recent Deflation in Consumer Durables Prices’, Statement on Monetary Policy , May, pp 57–59. RBA (2014), ‘The RBA’s Business Liaison Program’, RBA Bulletin , September, pp 1–5. RBA (2016) , ‘Box A: Recent Trends in Inflation in China’, Statement on Monetary Policy , February, pp 14–16. JUNE QUARTER 2016 BULLETIN 17 | EC Bulletin.indb 17 10/06/2016 4:03 pm

10 18 RESERVE BANK OF AUSTRALIA 02 Why Has Retail Inflation Been so Low.indd 18 10/06/2016 4:48 pm

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