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Deflation is still a fear, but the downward price pressure is growing. David Rosenberg, economist at Merrill Lynch, highlights changes in the labor market are worrisome:
As a sign of how consumers are delaying their purchases in anticipation of even lower prices, only 47% of shoppers have completed their holiday activity versus 53% a year ago. We regard this as evidence th at deflation expectations are creeping in.
And one of the conditions for deflation is, of course, wage flexibility, and everywhere we look, we see an increasing number of companies cutting back on their wage bills. FedEx is just one example – slashing wages for 35,000 employees by 5% (that is 16% of the company’s workforce), including a 20% base pay cut for its Chairman and CEO (plus no company contributions to 401k plans in 2009). We also see that Nortel, Eastman Chemical, Newell Rubbermaid, Agilent Technologies, Atlas World Group, and AK Steel Holding have all cut wages and salaries in the past few weeks. According to Watson Wyatt Worldwide, another 6% of companies also plan to cut wages and benefits and 23% intend to reduce the size of their staff in 2009. Also have a look at the front page of “In Need of Cash, More Companies Cut 401(k) Match” – again, the labor market is definitely deflating. Not only that, but these cuts to 401(k) contributions are going to accelerate the process towards rising personal savings rates in coming quarters and years – again, a highly deflationary development and we are not sure that there is an appropriate response to this given that the savings rate is already at rock bottom levels of around 2%.
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