I had my annual rail fare shock recently when I took my first trip into central London of the year. As I no longer require a season ticket, I am at the mercy of the various peak and off peak fares that my local operator charges. Once again the fare increase was noticeable and comfortably above what is laughingly known as the headline inflation rate.
Inflation is certainly back in various guises. There is currently the CPI rate that is almost twice the level which the Bank of England is meant to target. Petrol, utility and transport costs seem to have a life of their own. Global commodity prices are soaring. China is no longer the cheap production centre it used to be. And to cap it all VAT has just gone up.
With incomes stagnating for many people we should probably be feeling a lot poorer. Indeed the Governor of the Bank of England seems to think that this is a good thing. Hence the renewed fears of a double dip recession following the release of this week’s GDP figures which showed an apparently surprising decline in the last quarter of last year.
Back in the seventies, prices went up 20% and so did wages. It was an unwritten law of the UK economy at that time. Nowadays prices are going up and wages are not, a reversal of the so called new economic paradigm of the previous decade.
Some price increases are obvious and immediate such a train fares and petrol. Some are not. Many retailers have not passed the increase on as yet, probably because they snuck most of their increases in before Christmas and then have disguised the rest by imaginatively spreading them across their product portfolio and using promotions to disguise overall increases.
So are things really that bad? And what should clever businesses be doing about it regardless? Managing during this “phoney war” period of inflation is challenging, particularly as we now live in a flexible global economy where there are a myriad of influences affecting prices and wages.
However switched on businesses can look closely at all their costs and all their products. They should be able work out where they can increase prices, do deals with suppliers and keep their key staff happy. At times like this businesses really do need a good understanding of their finances so that they can model and manage their income and costs.
Of course the real threat to the economy remains interest rate increases. Price increases can be managed to a certain degree. I suspect higher interest rates will be much harder to do so.