Over the last decade, unprecedented spikes and drops in commodity prices have been a recurrent source of concern to both policymakers and the general public. Given all the recent attention, have economists and analysts made any progress in their ability to predict movements in commodity prices? In this post, we find there is no easy answer. We consider different strategies to forecast near-term commodity price inflation, but find that no particular approach is systematically more accurate and robust. Additionally, the results warn against interpreting current forecasts of commodity prices upswings as reliable and dependable signals of future inflationary pressure.
In a previous post, I discussed the impact of changing commodity prices on the discretionary income of households and concluded that these effects generally were relatively modest except in cases of extreme swings in commodity prices. As many people know, there was a large surge in energy prices during the first quarter of 2011, and it appears to have had a significant effect on discretionary income and consumer spending. (See recent speeches by Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke and New York Fed President Dudley; for views outside the Fed, see FT Alphaville, Tim Duy, and James Hamilton.)
Commodity prices have risen considerably since August 2010, raising concerns that higher commodity prices could reduce households’ discretionary income and slow the recovery. For example, as former Federal Reserve Board Vice Chairman Donald Kohn said in the Wall Street Journal last fall:
“… the surge in international commodity prices. If that persists it could hurt Americans’ disposable income, especially as it is reflected in higher gas and energy prices.”