Canada’s Largest Pension Says Inflation Could Rise in Rebound

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Canada’s largest pension fund says policy measures across the globe to address the Covid-19 pandemic could fuel inflation after years of under-inflation while also spurring a rebound in employment and business investment.

“We’re keeping an eye on this because central banks have adjusted frameworks,” Mark Machin, chief executive officer of Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, said in an interview Tuesday. “There is also the risk of a wall of money in savings accounts -- $13 trillion in U.S. banks alone -- moving, and that transfer can cause inflation.”

Machin also sees the synchronized global economic upswing potentially creating further upward price pressure on commodities.

“Emerging markets are where you’re going to see a massive pickup in demand. And we’re very familiar with the infrastructure bottlenecks that exists and some economies’, especially in the Asian emerging markets, dependence on imports and commodities,” Machin said.

Another factor that could generate inflation is an uptick in infrastructure spending as a form of economic stimulus, he said.

“These things are happening because people are building the right things in the right way and there’s lots of investment happening, but you could flow through into some elements of fueling inflation, which will create challenges for some emerging markets and central banks over the time,” Machin said.

The global economic slump caused by the Covid pandemic has had a disinflationary effect, capping a decade in which the central banks of most advanced economies had already fallen short of their inflation targets. Now, the pension fund will be watching to see whether adjustments made by the central banks will spur more robust inflation as economies recover, CPPIB said in its Thinking Ahead report published Monday.

Inflation could still be held down below target levels if governments scale back plans for fiscal and monetary stimulus or if the recovery is unexpectedly weak, the board said. That would raise the risk that real interest rates remain near zero and business investment stays weak.

Widening Inequality

The overall pace of the recovery is the wild card. Machin says he doesn’t see the global economy rebounding to pre-pandemic levels before the second half of 2022.

Covid-19 will continue to be the biggest factor in the global economy in 2021, worsening the rich-poor divide, changing the pattern of trade and driving up public debt around the world, according to CPPIB.

“The pandemic has affected virtually everyone, but not equally,” it said in the report. “The economic crisis caused by the pandemic has exacerbated global inequalities, with social distancing and lockdown policies disproportionately hurting those who are more economically disadvantaged.”

For example, new immigration restrictions and an overall inability to travel for work have led to a significant loss of income for the working poor in developing countries, the pension fund said.

Machin said widening inequality could generate “a permanent scarring in the economy.”

Beyond the question of more economic stimulus, the pace of recovery will depend on how aggressively the disease continues to spread and how quickly vaccines are rolled out, the pension fund said.

Governments’ increased spending through the slowdown will probably push the global public debt-to-GDP ratio above 100%, which should be manageable for countries with control of their own monetary policies. For those without control or those that issue sovereign debt in foreign currency, “fiscal contraction over the medium term may be unavoidable as sluggish growth and high debt levels raise questions about fiscal sustainability,” the report said.

The nations that focused on testing and contact tracing and also managed to slow the spread of the virus through quarantines are in a better position to return to their pre-Covid trajectory, CPPIB says.

China Watch

The pension giant will be closely watching China’s pandemic exit strategy, it said, which could “serve as a helpful case study for policy makers in other countries.”

CPPIB expects global trade to rebound significantly next year. The pace of trade has accelerated regionally, particularly in Asia, it said, while in North America, the regional value chain linkage between the U.S. and Canada has continued to strengthen.

“Beyond 2021, more emphasis on resilience as compared to efficiency in production could reinforce tendencies towards intra-regional linkages, with both contributing to increased balkanization of international trade,” CPPIB said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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