Economics-Watching: Global Data Tracks Decade-Long Decline in Check Payments

[by Claire Greene, payments risk expert in the Retail Payments Risk Forum at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta]

From around the world, we have more evidence that people are shifting from checks to other means of non-cash payments. Using data from the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), my Atlanta Fed colleagues Antar Diallo and Oz Shy found that from 2012 to 2021, in all 20 countries they examined, the number of checks declined as the number of cashless payments increased. Since checks are cashless payment instruments, it’s notable that the total of cashless payments increased even as a component of this calculation declined.

Among the 20 countries that reported the number and value of these payments to the BIS, the United States had by far the highest per capita use of checks per year in 2021: 30 checks. Only six countries reported more than two per capita (chart below), another 12 between zero and two. Belgium and South Africa reported zero.

Yikes, you say, 30 checks per person per year in 2021! How is that possible? Most checks in the United States—about two-thirds—are estimated to be written by businesses, according to the Atlanta Fed’s Check Sample Survey. That would put the average number of checks that U.S. consumers write at about 10 per year on average, which is in line with the findings of the 2021 Survey and Diary of Consumer Payment Choice.

Given the high per capita use in the United States, it makes sense that our year-over-year decline from 2012 has been slower than that for other countries. The per-year decline in the number of U.S. checks from 2012 to 2021 was slower than the decline for all the other high-use countries listed in the chart. The United States was down 6.7 percent per year from 2012 to 2021, compared to down 8.8 percent per year for Canada at the slow end and down 17.4 percent per year for Austria at the quick end.

No way around it: we love our checks, and our response to innovation has been tepid compared to that of other countries.

Economics-Watching: Third-Quarter GDP Growth Estimate Increased

[from the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s GDPNow]

The growth rate of real gross domestic product (GDP) is a key indicator of economic activity, but the official estimate is released with a delay. The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s GDPNow forecasting model provides a “nowcast” of the official estimate prior to its release by estimating GDP growth using a methodology similar to the one used by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

GDPNow is not an official forecast of the Atlanta Fed. Rather, it is best viewed as a running estimate of real GDP growth based on available economic data for the current measured quarter. There are no subjective adjustments made to GDPNow—the estimate is based solely on the mathematical results of the modelIn particular, it does not capture the impact of COVID-19 and social mobility beyond their impact on GDP source data and relevant economic reports that have already been released. It does not anticipate their impact on forthcoming economic reports beyond the standard internal dynamics of the model.

The GDPNow model estimate for real GDP growth (seasonally adjusted annual rate) in the third quarter of 2023 is 4.1 percent on August 8, up from 3.9 percent on August 1. After recent releases from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Institute for Supply Management, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, an increase in the nowcast of third-quarter real gross private domestic investment growth from 5.2 percent to 8.1 percent was slightly offset by decreases in the nowcasts of third-quarter real personal consumption expenditures growth and third-quarter real government spending growth from 3.5 percent and 2.9 percent, respectively, to 3.2 percent and 2.7 percent, while the nowcast of the contribution of the change in real net exports to second-quarter real GDP growth increased from 0.08 percentage points to 0.11 percentage points.

The next GDPNow update is Tuesday, August 15.

Speculative Science: The Reality beyond Spacetime, with Donald Hoffman

[from The Institute of Art and Ideas Science Weekly, July 22]

Donald Hoffman famously argues that we know nothing about the truth of the world. His book, The Case Against Reality, claims the process of survival of the fittest does not require a true picture of reality. Furthermore, Hoffman claims spacetime is not fundamental. So, what lies beneath spacetime, can we know about it? And how does consciousness come into play? Join this interview with the famed cognitive psychologist and author exploring our notions of consciousness, spacetime, and what lies beneath. Hosted by Curt Jaimungal.

[watch the video]

Economy-Watching, USA: Global Supply Chain Pressure Index: April 2023 Update

[from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York]

A new reading of the Global Supply Chain Pressure Index has been posted.

Estimates for March 2023

  • Global supply chain pressures decreased again in March, falling from 0.28 to 1.06 standard deviations below the index’s historical average.
  • There were significant downward contributions by many of the factors, with the largest negative contributions from European Area delivery times, European Area backlogs, and Taiwanese purchases.
  • The GSCPI’s recent movements suggest that global supply chain conditions have largely normalized after experiencing temporary setbacks around the turn of the year.

The GSCPI compiles more than two dozen metrics across seven economies—data on global transportation costs and regional manufacturing conditions—to track shifts in supply chain pressures from 1997 to the present.

The GSCPI is updated regularly at 10 AM ET on the fourth business day of each month.

The GSCPI is a product of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Applied Macroeconomics and Econometrics Center.

View the index.

Economy-Watching, USA: First-Quarter GDP Growth Estimate Decreased

[from the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta]


First-Quarter GDP Growth Estimate Decreased

On April 5, the GDPNow model estimate for real GDP growth in the first quarter of 2023 is 1.5 percent, down from 1.7 percent on April 3.

The next GDPNow update is Monday, April 10.

Want to see even more economic data? The Atlanta Fed’s EconomyNow app will put GDPNow and all its data tools right in your hands. Download it today to see the latest data on inflation, growth, and the labor market.

Economics-Watching: Underlying Inflation Dashboard Updated

[from the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, February 24, 2023]

Underlying Inflation Dashboard Updated

We’ve updated our Underlying Inflation Dashboard with data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

Want to see even more economic data? The Atlanta Fed’s EconomyNow app will put GDPNow and all its data tools right in your hands. Download it today to see the latest data on inflation, growth, and the labor market.

Zheng Yongnian (郑永年) on How to Address Western Public Opinion on China: Facts, Science and Reason

[from Pekingology at the Center for China and Globalization (CCG)]

“Be open, open, and more open,” especially to businesses, investors, media, universities, and research institutions. And tit-for-tat doesn’t work, the professor says.

by Zichen Wang, Shuyuan Han, and Li Huiyan

Professor Zheng Yongnian (郑永年), the Founding Director of the Institute for International Affairs at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen, on January 28 published an article on how China should address Western public opinion on China. His advice is in the last part of the article, and below is a translation.

(Emphasis by Pekingnology.)

First, we need to understand how such narratives are formed. Historically, China held a bias due to its self-isolation and limited knowledge of the West. Despite losing the two Opium Wars, Chinese intellectuals at that time still saw Westerners as uncivilized. It was not until China was defeated by Japan, a neighboring country once considered as China’s student, that they realized their ignorance and a need for reform. Before China’s Reform and Opening up, Chinese people barely knew anything about the West. They always assumed Westerners were in deep distress, repeating the same lack of understanding of the West.

Similarly, the West’s uncertainty and fear towards China’s rise stem from a lack of understanding and even fear of the country, and their ingrained ideology would lead to misconceptions.

China is the world’s second-largest economy. The externalities and influence of its economy on the West are obvious. Upon joining the WTO, some Chinese people also felt unsettled by the externalities of the West. Some said, “the wolf is coming.” Now it is the West that is experiencing such worries.

It is crucial to recognize the significant impact of the Western hypocritical narratives against China, even if they are based on ideology rather than facts. We must also acknowledge that ideology-based public opinion from the West can exert a powerful influence on their policies toward China.

Historically, the West tended to demonize others while presenting themselves as morally superior, which enabled them to apply Social Darwinism to international politics easily and thus legitimizing conflicts and even wars with other nations. Given the Soviet Union’s failure in the ideological arena during the Cold War, we should by no means ignore any ideology-based public opinion toward China from the West.

Second, to make rational responses to the Western ideology-based criticisms, we should draw lessons from the history of the world economy, such as the lessons of the Soviet Union, as well as our practices, such as the rhetorical battle with the West in the past few years. Coming up with an externally-facing public opinion based on a different ideology is not the most effective in addressing public opinion attacks based on an ideology. Empirically, tit-for-tat is ineffective and can worsen the situation. Again, the failure of the Soviet Union is a prime example, as its battle with a Western ideology failed. When faced with China-demonizing based on ideology from the West, we need to do the simplest thing, namely resorting to facts, science, and reason.

Third, and most importantly, China needs to prioritize its sustainable development, which ultimately benefits the country itself. It is important to recognize that the foundation of the government’s governance lies in its citizens, not Western praise. The support from its people is crucial for both the nation’s longevity and stability., China’s sustainable development also benefits the world economy by boosting its growth. As mentioned above, China has been the largest contributor to the growth of the world economy since it joined the WTO.

It is crucial to prioritize the building of a knowledge system based on China’s practical experiences. Regarding global soft power, we need a knowledge system based on our experiences rather than a certain ideology. While there has been a proposal for an autonomous knowledge system, continuous effort is still required.

Fourth, given the substantial externalities of our economy, we must further communicate and coordinate with other countries on economic policies, regardless of their respective sizes. Our duty is to fulfill the responsibility as a major player in the international community, which also benefits China.

After the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis, China promised not to devalue its currency, and that commitment became an international public good in Asia. Similarly, after the global financial crisis from 2007 to 2008, China made similar contributions. As China re-opens its economy after the pandemic, it is important not only to take note of the hypocritical comments from certain quarters in the Western world but also to recognize the positive evaluations and high expectations from many international organizations.

Fifth, we must be open, open, and more open. Despite China’s efforts, there remains a persistent ideological camp in the West that views China through an ideological lens, a situation made worse by the past three years of the pandemic. The pandemic was so severe that it hindered travel across borders; as a result, some Western media and scholars tend to assess China through ideology since they couldn’t come here to see the facts with their own eyes.

The assessment of China through a uniform ideological lens appears to have strengthened the original Western ideological camp. However, the United States and the West have more than one ideology, and not all people believe in the prevailing ideology in the public opinion sphere. China’s openness provides a “seeing is believing” opportunity for different groups in the West. China should increase its openness to Western groups, including businesses, investors, media, universities, and research institutions. The changes in their understanding could render those ideological-based public opinions less effective.

World-Watching: Small Business and Food Waste: Not a Small Problem

[from APEC News]

by Aaron Sydor

Faced with a possible food crisis, economies must work together and take action on food waste … starting at the front line with MSMEs.

Conflict, supply disruption, rising prices, and shortages are all impacting food supplies globally. Just as we are nearing some form of recovery from the pandemic, we are now facing another global challenge in the form of a food crisis – and it’s likely to get worse.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) tells us that 349 million people face acute food insecurity this year — an increase from 287 million people in 2021. It is a tragedy that when the world is “hungrier than ever,” as the WFP calls it, so much food goes to waste. One-third of food production, or 1.3 billion tons per year, goes to waste globally, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. It is inconceivable, then, that we don’t make the most of the food that we have.

This is a regional problem that cannot be solved by individual economies acting on their own. It must be looked at with a wider lens, such as through bodies, like APEC, that promote regional economic cooperation. APEC members acknowledge that all areas of the agri-food value chain are interdependent and that there is a need for a whole-system approach.

Among the forum’s efforts to reduce food waste is the Food Security Roadmap Towards 2030 which aims to establish an open, fair, transparent, productive, sustainable and resilient APEC food system. This corresponds to the UN and other multilateral goals by taking action through the following avenues: digital transformation; productivity and international trade; sustainability; public-private partnerships; and inclusivity, especially in the inclusion of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) along the agri-food value chain.

For more on this topic, download “Enhancing Green MSMEs’ Competitiveness for a Sustainable and Inclusive Asia-Pacific: Food Sector Waste Reduction in Food Supply Chain.” [Archived PDF]

In my capacity as the Chair of APEC’s Small and Medium Enterprises Working Group, I’d like to stress the importance of the latter: inclusivity and small business. MSMEs account for over 97 percent of all business in APEC economies and employ over half of the workforce. Any strategy for reducing food wastage will have to involve the wholesale participation of the region’s smaller businesses.

This is easier written than done. For one thing, fit-for-purpose data is scarce. No APEC economy has food waste data that is specific to MSMEs. And while all have policies and measures to address the problem of food waste, there are no large-scale direct MSMEfood waste reduction targets, policies or plans. Few have tried to reduce MSME food waste in the retail food and food service industries. Supermarkets, food storage facilities or warehouses in many APEC economies aren’t required to donate excesses.

Most entrepreneurs aren’t even aware of the problem, or underestimate its true cost. Those who do understand have limited options or capital, and are unable to find cost-effective solutions to create value out of food waste, and face problems with logistics and transportation. On top of this, there are few to no regulatory frameworks to guide them. From a technology perspective, a majority of APEC economies utilize modern technologies, including mobile applications, to reduce or manage MSME food waste/surplus food, but these modern technologies are used only by large companies in big cities.

Amid these challenges are an abundance of opportunities to help MSMEs reduce food waste. Training, policies and guidelines can aid them in improving profits by reducing costs and increasing the value added of food. They can reduce their carbon footprint, which enhances consumer demand, and divert waste to new products or bioenergy.

A November study by the APEC Small and Medium Enterprises Working Group presents case studies, identifies the best available data on food waste for MSMEs, and identifies several best practices for economies in dealing with food waste through MSME policy.

In one section, the study’s authors analyze a case study of a successful MSME, and identify four key factors contributing to its successful reduction of food waste: 1) creating a network of people — e.g., a community surrounding a farm; 2) using innovation and technology to facilitate farming and save time; 3) producing knowledge and providing it through several channels — e.g., a learning and training center, friendly guide books; and 4) considering the environment at every step of the process.

The paper, called “Enhancing Green MSMEs’ Competitiveness for a Sustainable and Inclusive Asia-Pacific: Food Sector Waste Reduction in Food Supply Chain,” [Archived PDF] is extensive and easily doubles as a handbook for anyone interested in MSME food waste, or the problem of food waste in general. It is a great example of what can be achieved when economies combine knowledge and resources in the pursuit of keeping the region inclusive, prosperous, and fed.

Aaron Sydor is the Chair of the APEC Small and Medium Enterprises Working Group.

Facing the Global South: Building a New International System by Yang Ping

“If you raise [the development of the BRI] to the strategic level, there are countries where … you will have to lose money and there are countries where you will be free to make money.”

by Thomas des Garets Geddes, Sinification

Dear Everyone,

How to respond to the growing political divide between China and the West marked by partial decoupling, security alliances, and the risk of sanctions, amongst other things, continues to be a major topic of discussion among China’s intellectual elite. As already evidenced in previous editions of this newsletter, opinions vary considerably. Those presented here so far have ranged from Da Wei (达巍) stressing the importance of preserving if not strengthening ties with the West and Shen Wei (沈伟) arguing in favor of reforming the WTO and building up a network of free trade agreements to Ye Hailin (叶海林) emphasizing the need for China to demonstrate its military might to demobilize U.S. allies and Lu Feng (路风) calling for self-reliance and greater assertiveness in the field of tech. A certain amount of overlap certainly exists among these perspectives but the differences are nonetheless striking.

Today’s edition of Sinification looks at a speech made last month by Yang Ping (杨平), head and editor-in-chief of the highly regarded Beijing Cultural Review (文化纵横, hereafter BCR). Yang is also director of the Longway Foundation (修远基金会) which publishes BCR. The foundation describes its publication as “the most influential magazine of intellectual thought and commentary in China” and sees itself as having a key role in helping shape the direction of intellectual debates in China (“议题的设置就是意识形态斗争成功的一半”). Indeed, BCR often republishes old articles at key junctures as so often highlighted by David Ownby’s wonderful Reading the China Dream.

The following are excerpts from an edited transcript of a speech by Yang made at an event hosted by Renmin University’s Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, which was attended by China’s Vice-minister of foreign affairs Xie Feng (谢锋). In his speech, Yang advocates building a new international system led by countries in the Global South (which, of course, includes China) rather than the West. His ideas are not particularly novel but are nevertheless noteworthy in that they represent yet another viewpoint in the ongoing debate over how China should respond to the increasing tensions that characterize its relations with the U.S. and other Western countries. Next week, I will be sharing a somewhat longer piece that proposes a way of protecting China from the growing threat of Western sanctions.

Yang’s speech in a nutshell:

  • Capitalist politics” are no longer in line with “capitalist economics.” The former now undermines globalization, while the latter supports it.
  • Sanctions, export controls, friend-shoring and alliance-building are damaging the world economy and further alienating China from the current U.S.-led international order.
  • China must respond to this growing trend by building a “new type of international system” with other countries in the Global South.
  • BRI projects should be increasingly focused on achieving this goal and thus allow more room for loss-making endeavors.

Capitalist politics ≠ Capitalist economics

“Since 2022 and the Russo-Ukrainian conflict, our main focus and topic of discussion has been China’s construction of a new type of international system.

“The most important feature of today’s world is the beginning of a separation between capitalist politics and capitalist economics. The capitalist political order and the capitalist economic order do not support each other [any longer].

“We have witnessed two typical manifestations of the separation of politics and the economy and the impact of politics on the economy:

  1. The first is the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. The sanctions imposed on Russia by the United States and the West have reached unthinkable, abominable [令人发指] and unimaginable proportions. Under established international rules, it was understood that such sanctions could not possibly occur, but now they have. These include the fracturing of the financial system, the expropriation and seizure of Russian private assets and the freezing of Russian foreign exchange reserves. These are all abominable and unimaginable forms of confrontation. At the same time, the Russo-Ukrainian conflict has led to serious disruptions in global food and energy systems and supply chains, with massive food ‘shortages’ and soaring food prices, particularly in developing countries. Sanctions and political repression [政治打压] have severely disrupted the [world’s] economic order.
  2. The second is the conflict between the U.S. and China. Since the Trump era, the U.S. has been engaged in a trade war against China, mainly by raising tariffs. Basically, this was simply about balancing trade [with China] and used mainly economic means. But under Biden, it [has become] a war that mixes politics with economics. Biden’s strategy towards China can basically be summed up in just a few words: one, friend-shoring, [i.e.] only allowing friendly countries into [parts of] its supply chains; two, alliance politics, [i.e.] continuously forging an alliance system involving NATO, the European Union, Japan, AUKUS and the four Asia-Pacific countries [I assume he is referring to South Korea, Japan, New Zealand and Australia taking part for the first time in a NATO summit last year] and constantly opposing China [不断应对中国]; three, its so-called ‘precision strikes’, [i.e.] its radical crackdown on China’s high tech [industry], especially our chip industry.”

China is being pushed out of the U.S.-led international system

“The information I have seen so far is that the number of Chinese companies included in the U.S.’s ‘entity list’ has risen from 132 under Trump to over 530 now. The scope of such point-to-point [点对点] precision strikes is constantly expanding. With such a political impact on the economy, we can feel the [world’s] economic order being disrupted across the board. The world is moving inexorably in the direction of decoupling. The phenomenon of politics affecting the economy and the capitalist political order no longer upholding the capitalist economic order are extremely striking.

“In such a context, the challenges now facing China are extremely serious and varied. We have the pressures of dealing both with containment in the Indo-Pacific and with the U.S.-led politics of alliances across the world. More importantly and fundamentally China faces the strategic task of building a new type of international system [新型国际体系] … The existing Western-dominated international system used to be one in which we tried hard to blend [so as] to become one with it. During this process, we [sought to] absorb the West’s advanced technologies and management [practices] and thus complete our mission of industrialisation and modernization.

“But once you enter the existing international system, he [who is already inside] does not want to play with you, and even wants to drive you back out. He wants to divide both supply chains and the economic system into two parts [搞成两套] and desperately wants to contain and suppress you. This is not something that can be determined by your own subjective preferences. He has made up his mind: you have already become his ‘fated opponent’ [命定的对手]. He has to suppress you and drive you out of the existing system.”

Building a new international system with the Global South

“It is at this point that China is faced with the task of constructing a new type of international system that is not dominated by the West. In today’s so-called strategic quadrangle consisting of the U.S., Europe, Russia and China, how to construct such an international system appears particularly difficult [逼庂 literally means ‘narrow’ or ‘cramped’ rather than ‘difficult’].

“But if we look a little further south, we will find a vast number of developing countries, the Third World and the countries of the global South. They should be our strategy’s depth [我们的战略纵深]. That is to say, [we should] build a new type of international relations and a new type of international system that has strategic depth and in which China and the countries of the global South are jointly integrated. [This] is, in my view, an important strategic task for China’s international relations in the coming decades.”

BRI projects: Strategy trumps profitability

“For China today, especially for businesses and governments at all levels [within China] that are currently working hard to develop BRI trade, there is a very important point to which they should be alerted or reminded about: the development of the BRI has to go beyond mere business, beyond the general export of [China’s excess] production capacity, beyond the partial thinking of industry and the partial thinking at the regional level, or the simple economic way of thinking of business. The development of the BRI should be considered at the strategic level. That is, it should be included into China’s strategy when thinking about Africa, South America, Southeast Asia and Central Asia.

“If you raise [the development of the BRI] to the strategic level, there are countries where you won’t be able to make money and will have to lose money, and there are countries where you will be free to make money. You have to unite the two within your organic strategy.

“The strategic task of building a new type of international system is, in my view, a strategic proposition that Chinese think tanks and research institutes should pay very close attention to with regards to international relations.

“Time is limited today. I just wanted to make a start here. I hope to receive your corrections and criticisms. Thank you!”

[Subscribe to Sinification]

The recessive importance of the Global South was previously explored by Richard and his partner Larry, with input from Supratik Bose, many decades ago as shown here.

FRBSF Economic Letter: Can Monetary Policy Tame Rent Inflation?

[from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco Economic Letter]

by Zheng Liu and Mollie Pepper

Rent inflation has surged since early 2021. Because the cost of housing is an important component of total U.S. consumer spending, high rent inflation has contributed to elevated levels of overall inflation. Evidence suggests that, as monetary policy tightening cools housing markets, it can also reduce rent inflation, although this tends to adjust relatively slowly. A policy tightening equivalent to a 1 percentage point increase in the federal funds rate could reduce rent inflation as much as 3.2 percentage points over 2½ years.

“We’ve had a time of red-hot housing market all over the country… Shelter inflation is going to remain high for some time. We’re looking for it to come down, but it’s not exactly clear when that will happen. Hope for the best, plan for the worst.”

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell (2022)

The rapid run-up of shelter costs—both house prices and rents—during the recovery from the pandemic has raised questions about how inflation pressures might affect housing affordability. Since March 2022, the Federal Reserve has rapidly lifted its federal funds rate target from near zero to over 4%, and policymakers have signaled that they are open to keeping the monetary policy stance sufficiently restrictive to return inflation to the longer-run goal of 2% on average. The tightened financial conditions following those policy changes, especially the surge in mortgage interest rates, have helped cool house price growth. However, rent inflation remains elevated.

This Economic Letter examines the effectiveness of monetary policy tightening for reducing rent inflation. We estimate that, during the period from 1988 to 2019, a policy tightening equivalent to a 1 percentage point increase in the federal funds rate can reduce rent inflation—measured by 12-month percentage changes in the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) housing price index—by about 3.2 percentage points, but the full impact takes about 2½ years to materialize. Based on housing costs’ share in total PCE, this translates to a reduction in headline PCE inflation of about 0.5 percentage point over the same time horizon.

Rising housing costs

Following the COVID-19 recession, house prices and rents both surged in the United States. For example, the 12-month growth rate of Standard & Poor’s CoreLogic Case-Shiller Home Price Index accelerated from about 10% in December 2020 to over 20% in March 2022. After the Federal Reserve started raising the target for the federal funds rate in March, house price growth has slowed significantly, to about 9% in October 2022.

Rent inflation also accelerated during the pandemic period. Figure 1 shows that rent inflation—measured using 12-month changes in the PCE housing price index and including rents for tenant-occupied housing and imputed rents for owner-occupied housing—rose from a low point of about 2% in early 2021 to 7.7% by December 2022, the highest level since 1986. During the same period, rent inflation measured by 12-month changes in the shelter component of the consumer price index (CPI) experienced a similar increase. Thus, following the tightening of monetary policy, house price growth has slowed but rent inflation continues to rise.

Figure 1: PCE and CPI measures of rent inflation
Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis, Bureau of Labor Statistics, and Haver Analytics.
Note: Twelve-month percentage changes. Gray shading indicates NBER recession dates.

Economic theory suggests that some common forces such as changes in housing demand can drive both rents and house prices. For example, the expansion of remote work since the COVID-19 pandemic has increased demand for housing, raising both house prices and rents (Kmetz, Mondragon, and Wieland 2022). To the extent that the stream of current and future rents reflects the fundamental value of a house, house prices can be a leading indicator of future rent inflation (Lansing, Oliveira, and Shapiro 2022). Thus, monetary policy can affect both house prices and rents by cooling housing demand.

Housing demand responds to changes in financial conditions, such as increases in mortgage interest rates. However, theory suggests that house prices are more sensitive than rental prices to changes in financial conditions, because home purchases typically require longer-term mortgage financing. In addition, unlike rents, house prices can be partly driven by investor sentiments or beliefs, which explains the observed larger swings in house prices than in rents over business cycles (Dong et al. 2022). Long-term rental contracts can also contribute to slow adjustments in rent inflation.

Rent inflation is an important contributor to overall inflation because housing costs are an important component of total consumption expenditures. On average, housing expenditures represent about 15% of total PCE and 25% of the services component of PCE. In CPI, shelter costs represent an even larger share, accounting for about 30% of total consumption of all urban consumers and about 40% of core consumption expenditures excluding volatile food and energy components.

The contribution of rent inflation to overall PCE inflation has increased since early 2021. As Figure 2 shows, in the first quarter of 2021, rent inflation accounted for about 22% of the four-quarter change in the PCE services price index, excluding energy: 0.5 of the 2.3 percentage points increase in service prices was attributable to rent inflation. By the third quarter of 2022, the contribution of rent inflation had climbed to about one-third, or 1.5 of the 4.7 percentage point increase in service prices.

Figure 2: Rising contribution of rent inflation to services inflation
Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis, Haver Analytics, and authors’ calculations.
Note: Four-quarter changes in PCE services price index excluding energy.

Measuring policy effects

Given the rising contribution of rent inflation to overall inflation, it is important to assess the quantitative effects of monetary policy tightening on rent inflation.

For our analysis, we use a measure of monetary policy surprises constructed by Bauer and Swanson (2022). Their measure focuses on high-frequency changes in financial market indicators within a short period surrounding the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) policy announcements. If the public fully anticipates a policy change, then the financial market would not react to new policy announcements. However, if the market does react to an announcement, then the policy change must contain a surprise element. Thus, changes in financial market indicators, such as the price of Eurodollar futures, in a narrow window around an FOMC announcement can capture policy surprises. In practice, however, the data constructed this way are not complete surprises because they can be predicted by some macro and financial variables shortly before FOMC announcements. We follow the approach of Bauer and Swanson (2022) to purge the influences of those macro and financial variables from the measure of policy surprises. We use the resulting quarterly time series to measure monetary policy shocks, with a sample period from 1988 to 2019.

We then use a local projections model—a statistical tool proposed by Jordà (2005)—to project how rent inflation responds over time to a tightening of monetary policy equivalent to a 1 percentage point unanticipated increase in the federal funds rate in a given quarter. The model takes into account how monetary policy shocks interact with other macroeconomic variables, including lags of rent inflation, real GDP growth, and core PCE inflation.

In the final step, we compute the responses of rent inflation relative to its preshock level over a period up to 20 quarters after the initial increase in the federal funds rate.

Gradual impact of policy tightening on rent inflation

Figure 3 shows the response of rent inflation during the first 20 quarters after an unanticipated tightening of monetary policy (solid blue line). The shaded area shows the confidence band, indicating the statistical uncertainty in estimating the responses. Under the assumption that the model is correct, the shaded area contains the actual value of the rent inflation responses to the monetary policy shock roughly two-thirds of the time. The policy shock is normalized such that it is equivalent to a 1 percentage point unanticipated increase in the federal funds rate.

Figure 3: Response of rent inflation to monetary policy tightening
Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis, Bauer and Swanson (2022), and authors’ calculations.
Note: Response of rent inflation to a monetary policy shock equivalent to a 1 percentage point surprise increase in the federal funds rate. Shaded region shows 68% confidence band around the estimate.

The figure shows that monetary policy tightening has significant and gradual effects on rent inflation. On impact, a 1 percentage point increase in the federal funds rate reduces rent inflation about 0.6 percentage point relative to its preshock level. Over time, rent inflation declines gradually, falling about 3.2 percentage points in the 10 quarters following the impact. The slow adjustment in rent inflation partly reflects the stickiness in nominal rents due to long-term rental contracts. Since housing expenditures account for about 15% of total PCE, this estimate translates to a reduction in headline PCE inflation of about 0.5 percentage point, stemming from the decline in rent inflation over a period of 2½ years.

The rent component of PCE is measured based on average rents, including those locked in long-term rental contracts, which are slow to adjust to changes in economic and financial conditions. Rents on new leases, however, are more flexible. For example, the 12-month growth in Zillow’s observed rent index, which measures changes in asking rents on new leases, has slowed significantly since March 2022 (see Figure 4). Asking rents are typically a leading indicator of future average rents. Thus, the slowdown in asking rent growth could portend lower future rent inflation.

Figure 4: Year-over-year observed rent growth starting to slow
Source: Zillow and Haver Analytics.
Note: Twelve-month percentage changes in Zillow’s observed rent index. Gray shading indicates NBER recession dates.


Rents are an important component of consumer expenditures. Recent surges in rent inflation have led to concerns that overall inflation might stay persistently high despite tightening of monetary policy. We present evidence that monetary policy tightening is effective for reducing rent inflation, although the full impact takes time to materialize. A policy tightening equivalent to a 1 percentage point increase in the federal funds rate can reduce rent inflation up to 3.2 percentage points over the course of 2½ years. This translates to a maximum reduction in headline PCE inflation of about 0.5 percentage point over the same time horizon. Although average rents are slow to respond to policy changes, growth of asking rents on new leases has started to slow following recent monetary policy tightening. Our finding suggests that this tightening will gradually bring rent inflation down over time, thereby helping to reduce overall inflation.

Zheng Liu — Vice President and Director of the Center for Pacific Basin Studies, Economic Research Department, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco

Mollie Pepper — Research Associate, Economic Research Department, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco

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