US joins club of deflation nations

Richard B. Levine/Newscom
A French Connection store advertises its sales on Sixth Avenue in New York.

Signs of deflation are popping up around the world.

The US is the latest to feel its chill effects. Consumer prices last month fell 0.4 percent from the same month a year ago. That's the first time since August 1955 that Americans have seen a year-over-year decline in prices.

Startling as that was, it was a far milder drop than in Ireland, which reported last week that its consumer prices fell 2.6 percent in March from a year ago. That's the largest decline for the Irish since 1933. (Why do central bankers see deflation as a threat? Click here.)

Big Swiss dip

After flirting with deflation all year, Switzerland dipped into negative territory in March, down 0.4 percent year over year. It was the biggest dip since 1959.

Spain's consumer prices fell 0.1 percent in March compared with a year earlier. China last month reported a 1.6 percent drop in consumer prices in February, the first decline in seven years. Chinese officials said they didn't expect deflation to take hold.

On Wednesday, Japan announced its wholesale prices in March dropped 2.2 percent on an annual basis, the biggest decline since 2002. Granted, those are not consumer prices. But analysts speculate that, after a flat February, Japan's consumer prices will begin to fall, too, as job cuts and salary reductions take their toll.

Taiwan and Thailand, already mired in deflation, actually saw prices decline year over year at a more moderate level in March.

Inflation falling

Elsewhere, it's inflation that's moderating. Consumer prices in Germany, the European Union's largest economy, are expected to rise only 0.5 percent, a German think tank reported Wednesday, down from its prior forecast of 1.1 percent.

Of course, the fall in volatile energy prices is making the deflation in these nations look worse than it is. Core inflation in the US, which excludes energy and food, was actually up a stronger-than-expected 0.2 percent in March.

But the weakness of pricing pressures at checkout counters around the world suggests that the global economy has plenty of slack to overcome before a true recovery takes hold.

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