Profits in a time of inflation: what do company accounts say in the UK and euro area?

Gabija Zemaityte and Danny Walker

Inflation has been high in many countries since 2021. Some have said that companies have increased their profits over that period: so-called ‘greedflation’. We use published company accounts for thousands of large listed companies to look for signs of increased profits in the data. Consistent with previous analysis of aggregate incomes, price indices and business surveys, we find no evidence of a rise in overall profits in the UK – prices have gone up alongside wages, salaries and other input costs. Companies in the euro area are in a similar position. However, companies in the oil, gas and mining sectors have bucked the trend, and there is lots of variation within sectors too – some companies have been much more profitable than others.

Recent analysis by Sophie Piton, Ivan Yotzov and Ed Manuel has shown that corporate profits have been relatively stable in the UK and that profits are unlikely to have been a big contributor to inflation. Others have suggested that the trend in the euro area has been somewhat different. In this post we use a novel data source to look at this question: the information companies have reported in their accounts.

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Has the import price shock been worse in the UK or euro area?

Josh Martin and Julian Reynolds

How much have higher import prices increased consumer prices in the UK and euro area? This post explores this question using a framework grounded in some fundamental economic and national accounting concepts. Starting with the GDP price, we adjust for relative import and export prices to arrive at a consumer prices measure – this gives us a sense of the impact of import prices and the terms of trade shock on consumer price inflation. For the euro area, aggregating imports across member countries, which includes trade between members, risks overstating total imports and thus the effect on inflation. Using supplementary data to resolve this issue, we find that the euro area terms of trade shock has been larger than the UK’s.

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Profit margins and firm price growth: evidence from the Decision Maker Panel

Ivan Yotzov, Philip Bunn, Nicholas Bloom, Paul Mizen and Gregory Thwaites

Inflation in 2023 remains elevated across many advanced economies. Existing studies have considered the contribution of profits to persistently high inflation in the US, euro area and UK. To add to this debate, we recently asked firms in the Decision Maker Panel about their profit margins over the past year and their expectations for the year ahead. This post summarises the key findings from these new questions, and links them to recent trends in prices. Firms reported a squeeze in profit margins over the past year, on average, but they expect to rebuild margins over the next year. Firms expecting to increase margins also expect slightly higher price growth, suggesting that margin rebuilding could make some contribution to inflation persistence.

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Profits in a time of inflation: some insights from recent and past energy shocks in the UK

Sophie Piton, Ivan Yotzov and Ed Manuel

How have profits behaved in this context of sustained level of inflation? In part, the answer depends on how ‘profits’ are defined. Some broad measures suggest increasing profits, but conflate market and non-market sector dynamics and omit important corporate costs. We construct an alternative measure of corporate profits to capture UK firm earnings in excess of all production costs. This measure has been declining since the start of 2022, consistent with evidence from historical energy shocks. This decline has not been uniform across firms, however: firms with higher market power have been better able to increase their margins; others have experienced large declines.

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How do firms pass energy and food costs through the supply chain

Hela Mrabet and Jack Page

The rise in commodity prices after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had a direct and noticeable impact on consumers’ bills for energy and food. But firms also felt the brunt of higher costs. How did firms pass on these cost shocks through the supply chain and all the way onto consumer prices? How much and how quickly can firms pass through such large cost shocks? In this blog post, we combine information from Supply-Use tables with a rich industry-level data set on input and output price indices to shed light on these questions.

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Fuelling the tail: inflation- and GDP-at-Risk with oil-supply shocks

Marco Garofalo, Simon Lloyd and Edward Manuel

The economic consequences of the Russia-Ukraine war have brought the importance of sharp changes in commodity prices, such as oil, to centre stage. While many have focused on understanding the impact of these developments on the central projection for the macroeconomic outlook, this post investigates the balance of risks arising from oil-supply shocks, asking: could these lead to more severe or persistent changes in output growth and inflation, in rare events? Through the lens of a simple statistical model of Inflation- and GDP-at-Risk, we quantify the macroeconomic risks to inflation and GDP growth associated with (exogenous) changes in oil supply, showing that these shocks have more pronounced effects on the upper tail of the inflation distribution than at the centre.

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Unknown measures: assessing uncertainty around UK inflation using a new Inflation-at-Risk model

Nikoleta Anesti, Marco Garofalo, Simon Lloyd, Edward Manuel and Julian Reynolds

Understanding and quantifying risks to the economic outlook is essential for effective monetary policymaking. In this post, we describe an ‘Inflation-at-Risk’ model, which helps us assess the uncertainty and balance of risks around the outlook for UK inflation, and understand how this uncertainty relates to underlying economic conditions. Using this data-driven approach, we find that higher inflation expectations are particularly important for driving upside risks to inflation, while a widening in economic slack is important for downside risks. Our model highlights that rising tail-risks can become visible before a turning point, making the approach a useful addition to economists’ forecasting toolkit.

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Dissecting UK service inflation via a neural network Phillips curve

Marcus Buckmann, Galina Potjagailo and Philip Schnattinger

Understanding the origins of currently high inflation is a challenge, since the effects from a range of large shocks are layered on top of each other. The rise of UK service price inflation to up to 6.9% in April might potentially reflect external shocks propagating to a wider range of prices and into domestic price pressures. In this blog post we disentangle what might have contributed to the rise in service inflation in the UK using a neural network enhanced with some economic intuition. Our analysis suggests that much of the increase stems from spillovers from goods prices and input costs, a build-up of service inflation inertia and wage effects, and a pick-up in inflation expectations.

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Did supply constraints tilt the Phillips Curve?

Ambrogio Cesa-Bianchi, Ed Hall, Marco Pinchetti and Julian Reynolds

The remarkable stability of US inflation dynamics in the pre-Covid era had led many to think that the Phillips Curve had flattened. However, the sharp rise in inflation that followed the Covid-19 pandemic ignited a debate on whether the Phillips Curve had steepened and, in particular, whether its slope depends on some particular macroeconomic conditions. Which are these conditions, though? In this post, we argue that one important candidate that could explain this kind of state-dependency in the slope of the Phillips Curve is global supply chain constraints. We propose a simple framework to account for this state-dependency, and conduct econometric analysis on US data which supports its implications – showing that inflation in the US is more responsive to slack when supply constraints are tighter.

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Tradable cost shocks and non-tradable inflation: real wages and spillovers

Ambrogio Cesa-Bianchi, Federico Di Pace, Aydan Dogan and Alex Haberis

The recent steep rise in energy prices led to a rise in the price of energy-intensive tradable goods, with inflationary pressures subsequently broadening into services in many economies. Because services are less traded and have little energy input some have suggested this broadening might indicate inflationary pressures becoming more persistent. In this post, we explore the issue through the lens of a stylised two-country model with a tradable and a non-tradable sector. It suggests that following an energy price shock: i) the broadening of inflation from goods to services need not imply more persistent inflationary pressure or changed longer-run expectations, but may reflect one-off adjustments via domestic labour markets; and ii) Inflationary pressures in non-tradable sectors can still have sizable international spillovers.

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