What Is Stagflation?
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What Is Stagflation?

Learn about the World Bank’s global economic outlook.

By HARRIET TORRY
Wed, Jun 15, 2022 10:27amGrey Clock 3 min

Stagflation—a toxic cocktail of stagnating growth and rising prices—is generally viewed as a relic of the 1970s. But economists are warning it could make a comeback.

What is stagflation?

The term is broadly defined as sluggish growth tied with rising inflation. Economists haven’t given it much thought since the 1970s, when U.S. consumers lined up to fill their cars with high-price gasoline and the jobless rate hit 9%.

Earlier this week, the World Bank sharply lowered its growth forecast for the global economy this year and warned of several years of high inflation and tepid growth reminiscent of the stagflation of the 1970s.

Stagflation spells trouble for the economy. Rising inflation erodes consumer purchasing power, and weaker demand hurts companies’ profits and causes layoffs.

Stagflation also puts the Federal Reserve in a bind because the central bank’s job is to keep both inflation and unemployment low. The Fed can raise interest rates to curb inflation—a path it has started on and intends to continue this year—but if it moves too aggressively it risks strangling spending and tipping the economy into a recession.

Why is stagflation a risk now?

Inflation is close to a 40-year high, and economists are worried about economic growth because of the war in Ukraine as well as lockdowns in China and supply-chain disruptions related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Are we in a period of stagflation now?

Not necessarily. Inflation is high, but unemployment remains near a half-century low. The U.S. economy contracted in the first quarter as supply disruptions weighed on output, but most economists expect growth will resume in the second quarter because of strength in consumer and business spending. Stagflation would be a sustained period of both higher inflation and slower growth, not just one quarter.

Stagflation remains a risk to the U.S. economy, and there are similarities between the situation in the 1970s and today. Surging prices for oil and food are pushing up the cost of living, and business executives are voicing concerns about the outlook for the economy.

But the key difference between the situation in the 1970s and today is employment. During the 1970s and early 1980s, the unemployment rate at times was around 10%. It was just 3.6% in May 2022. U.S. layoff announcements, for now, are few and far between.

What is the difference between stagflation and inflation?

Inflation refers to an increase in prices for goods and services. The Fed likes to see a bit of inflation. It targets 2% inflation a year, because that signals healthy demand in the economy. But if inflation rises too quickly, the rapid price increases erode households’ purchasing power. Stagflation is a situation in which prices are rising, but demand is weakening and economic growth is slowing or contracting. As a result, businesses make less money and cut jobs, driving up unemployment. At worst, that pushes the economy into a recession.

Has stagflation happened before?

Yes, stagflation occurred from the early 1970s to the early 1980s, when surging commodity prices and double-digit inflation collided with high unemployment.

British Parliamentarian Iain Macleod is credited with first using the word stagflation in 1965. “We now have the worst of both worlds—not just inflation on the one side or stagnation on the other, but both of them together. We have a sort of ‘stagflation’ situation.”

Its seeds were planted in the late 1960s, when President Lyndon B. Johnson revved up growth with spending on the Vietnam War and his Great Society programs. Fed Chairman William McChesney Martin, meanwhile, failed to tighten monetary policy sufficiently to rein in that growth.

In the early 1970s, President Richard Nixon, with the acquiescence of Fed Chairman Arthur Burns, tried to tame inflation by imposing controls on wage and price increases. The job became harder in 1973 after the Arab oil embargo drastically drove up energy prices, and overall inflation. Mr. Burns persistently underestimated inflation pressure: In part, he didn’t realize that the economy’s potential growth rate had fallen and that an influx of young, inexperienced baby boomers into the workforce had made it harder to get unemployment down to early-1960s levels.

As a result, even when the Fed raised rates, pushing the economy into a severe recession in 1974-75, inflation and unemployment didn’t fall back to the levels of the previous decade.

The stagflation of the 1970s ended painfully. Fed Chairman Paul Volcker drastically boosted interest rates to 20% in 1981, triggering a recession and double-digit unemployment.

Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: June 14, 2022.



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The Great Wealth Transfer: How rich millennials will invest the billions coming their way

The younger generation will bring a different mindset to how and where their newfound wealth is invested

By Bronwyn Allen
Fri, Mar 1, 2024 2 min

There is an enormous global wealth transfer in its beginning stages, whereby one of the largest generations in history – the baby boomers – will pass on their wealth to their millennial children. Knight Frank’s global research report, The Wealth Report 2024, estimates the wealth transfer set to take place over the next two decades in the United States alone will amount to US$90 trillion.

But it’s not just the size of the wealth transfer that is significant. It will also deliver billions of dollars in private capital into the hands of investors with a very different mindset.

Seismic change

Wealth managers say the young and rich have a higher social and environmental consciousness than older generations. After growing up in a world where economic inequality is rife and climate change has caused massive environmental damage, they are seeing their inherited wealth as a means of doing good.

Ben Whattam, co-founder of the Modern Affluence Exchange, describes it as a “seismic change”.

“Since World War II, Western economies have been driven by an overt focus on economic prosperity,” he says. “This has come at the expense of environmental prosperity and has arguably imposed social costs. The next generation is poised to inherit huge sums, and all the research we have commissioned confirms that they value societal and environmental wellbeing alongside economic gain and are unlikely to continue the relentless pursuit of growth at all costs.”

Investing with purpose

Mr Whattam said 66% of millennials wanted to invest with a purpose compared to 49% of Gen Xers. “Climate change is the number one concern for Gen Z and whether they’re rich or just affluent, they see it as their generational responsibility to fix what has been broken by their elders.”

Mike Pickett, director of Cazenove Capital, said millennial investors were less inclined to let a wealth manager make all the decisions.

“Overall, … there is a sense of the next generation wanting to be involved and engaged in the process of how their wealth is managed – for a firm to invest their money with them instead of for them,” he said.

Mr Pickett said another significant difference between millennials and older clients was their view on residential property investment. While property has generated immense wealth for baby boomers, particularly in Australia, younger investors did not necessarily see it as the best path.

“In particular, the low interest rate environment and impressive growth in house prices of the past 15 years is unlikely to be repeated in the next 15,” he said. “I also think there is some evidence that Gen Z may be happier to rent property or lease assets such as cars, and to adopt subscription-led lifestyles.”

Impact investing is a rising trend around the world, with more young entrepreneurs and activist investors proactively campaigning for change in the older companies they are invested in. Millennials are taking note of Gen X examples of entrepreneurs trying to force change. In 2022,  Australian billionaire tech mogul and major AGL shareholder, Mike Cannon-Brookes tried to buy the company so he could shut down its coal operations and turn it into a renewable energy giant. He described his takeover bid as “the world’s biggest decarbonisation project”.

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