This morning the Labor Department released its data for import prices in June. The two big takeaways: First, if the U.S. economy does face the threat of gathering inflation, don’t blame import prices. Second, currency manipulation by East Asian countries continues distorting U.S trade flows with the region even though President Obama refuses to deal with the problem in a Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal that currently includes Japan and likely will bring in China.
Here’s a handy-dandy summary. (Much of the data below, BTW, comes not from the release but from Labor Department statistics tables that contain the monthly numbers going back many years.)
According to the Labor Department, overall import prices advanced by 1.90 percent in the first half of this year, which have produced a 1.20 percent increase on a June-on-June basis. The Department also ominously warned that this year-on-year price rise was the fastest since the March, 2011 to March, 2012 period.
But it’s hard to justify inflation worries when you see what that 2011-2012 increase was: 3.50 percent! So if you use that as your baseline, price pressures from imports have been weakening, not strengthening.
The new Labor figures also show that the prices of U.S. imports from Japan, which are dominated by manufactures, were flat over the May figures, and fell 1.59 percent on a year-on-year basis. The comparable numbers for all U.S. manufactures imports were a decrease of 0.17 percent from May to June, and a rise of 0.17 percent over last June’s levels.
Adding to the evidence of currency manipulation’s impact — since Japan’s program of dramatic monetary easing and yen weakening began in January, 2013, the prices of America’s imports from Japan have decreased by 3.70 percent. Prices of all U.S. manufactures imports have dipped by only 0.66 percent during this period.
Prices of America’s manufactures-dominated imports from China in June also showed no change from the May figures – as opposed to the 0.17 percent drop in all manufactures imports. Similarly, prices of imports from China are now up 0.39 percent year-on-year – more than the 0.17 increase for all manufactures imports.
At the same time, import prices from China have not risen on net since August, 2011. During this period, prices of all U.S. manufactures imports are down, but only by a total of 0.41%.
Perhaps more revealing, since July, 2005, China initially announced an end to its policy of pegging its currency’s value to that of the U.S. dollar, the prices of its imports in the U.S. market have risen by 5.69 percent. But the prices of all U.S. manufactures imports are up by 16.40 percent – nearly three times faster.
Further, the more recent China lag unmistakably stems in part from the inclusion of rapidly falling Japanese prices in the overall totals. Trends in the prices of Chinese imports, along the soaring wages and other production costs supposedly fueling them, also partly reflect the ongoing shift in the make-up of China’s exports from lower-priced labor-intensive products to more expensive, more productive, high-value manufactures.
Indeed, the growing sophistication of China’s manufacturing exports even appears to have more than offset the effects on import prices of the yuan weakening seen since the beginning of this year. From January through June, the yuan has fallen by 2.53 percent versus the U.S. dollar. But during this period, prices of Chinese imports have risen by 0.39 percent.
In all, however, the import prices data strongly refute widespread claims by President Obama and others that China is rapidly becoming priced out of U.S. and global manufacturing markets, and are helping to create a renaissance in U.S. domestic manufacturing. China’s continuing manufacturing prowess is also repeatedly confirmed by its continually rising manufacturing trade surpluses with the United States.