Record-setting earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown — will Japan’s triple whammy create material and parts shortages that will trigger inflation? Or will they crack the momentum of a fragile worldwide economic recovery?
In the short term, of course, it may look like both phenomena are occurring. On one hand, plants are shutting down for lack of parts, laying off workers; on the other hand immediate scarcities of some items have driven up prices.
Here are some facts to consider:
– Honda expects its US dealers will experience shortages through May. — Automotive News, 3/21/11
– An automotive analyst at Truecar.com predicts the priceof a Toyota Prius could effectively go up $2,500 as a result of the disasters. — Automotive News
– Sony lost a blu-ray factory and an R&D center to flooding in northern Japan, and eight other facilities have been offline, suffering from electricity shortages and other issues. — NY Times, 3/21/11
– The Yen hit an all time high trading against the US dollar on March 16, prompting intervention by central banks in at least 7 countries. — WSJ, 3/19/11
– Officials found high radiation levels in some Japanese agricultural products grown near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. — NY Times, 3/20/11
– Manufacturing activity in the US has grown for 19 straight months; The ISM Manufacturing Index is at the highest point it has been in nearly 7 years.
Bottom line assessment — Japan’s economy will shift from production to construction, keeping price pressures on scarce Japanese goods high, especially while the Yen remains unusually strong. Meanwhile, the need for commodities to rebuild industrial capacity and feed a population until radiation levels subside can only support higher prices around the globe. All these things point to inflation as the greater danger. There is simply too much momentum to stop the U.S. economy, and too much determination to maintain it. The world is taking one, long, deep breath as it absorbs the rapidly unfolding dramas in Asia and the Middle East. Soon it will exhale and move on, with even increasing urgency.