Working Paper Research
Understanding inflation dynamics :
Where do we stand ?
by Maarten Dossche
June 2009 No 165
NBB WORKING PAPER No. 165 - JUNE 2009
Jan Smets, Member of the Board of Directors of the National Bank of Belgium
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ISSN: 1375-680X (print)
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NBB WORKING PAPER No. 165 - JUNE 2009
I summarize recent progress made in the literature on inflation dynamics. This has been a very
productive area of research due to the development of the so-called New Keynesian model and the
availability of new macroeconomic and microeconomic evidence. Nevertheless, a number of
problems still subsist. In particular the importance of temporary price markdowns to inflation
dynamics and the characteristics of the information set price-setters use for their price adjustment
decision currently constitute unresolved issues.
Key Words: Inflation dynamics, New Keynesian model, sticky prices.
JEL Classification: E30, E50, E60.
Maarten Dossche, NBB Research Department and Ghent University,
I thank Freddy Heylen and Vivien Lewis for useful comments and suggestions.
The paper is forthcoming in the Review of Business and Economics.
The views expressed in this paper are my own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the
National Bank of Belgium. All errors are my own.
NBB WORKING PAPER - No. 165 - JUNE 2009
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. Introduction ......................................................................................................................... 1
2. Costs and benefits of inflation ............................................................................................. 2
Inflation and costly price adjustment ....................................................................................... 2
Inflation and the value of nominal assets ................................................................................. 3
3. The New Keynesian model ................................................................................................... 6
4. Post-war inflation dynamics ................................................................................................ 7
Evidence from VARs............................................................................................................... 8
Evidence on inflation persistence .......................................................................................... 10
5. The role of price setting and some evidence .................................................................... 13
Theoretical assumptions ....................................................................................................... 13
Empirical evidence and implications for the theory ................................................................ 15
6. Conclusion and some unresolved issues ......................................................................... 20
References ................................................................................................................................. 22
National Bank of Belgium - Working paper series ......................................................................... 29
"In‡ation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon." Milton Friedman
There are two reasons why understanding in‡ation dynamics is important. First, in the presence
of price adjustment costs, in‡ation entails wasteful expenses for …rms and generates changes in
the distribution of relative prices that do not re‡ect changes in productivity. Second, in‡ation
a¤ects the real value of nominal assets, including money. In a market economy, the distribution of
relative prices and the real value of nominal assets a¤ect the allocation of the society’s resources
to consumption, leisure and investment. Through its e¤ect on real goods prices and asset prices
in‡ation ultimately determines economic welfare. Public policy that aims at maximizing economic
welfare thus needs to understand what drives in‡ation and how it a¤ects the allocation of resources.
During the last …ve to ten years we have seen an enormous research e¤ort to better understand
the in‡ation process, carried out by both the academic and central bank community. The reason
why this area of research has been so productive is that during recent years there has been a
fruitful interaction between the modeling of in‡ation and the search for a larger set of empirical
characteristics of in‡ation.
I …rst brie‡y review the costs and bene…ts of with in‡ation. That part of the paper motivates
why it is justi…ed to allocate so much resources to a better understanding of the in‡ation process.
As the motivation for a better understanding of the in‡ation process did not change recently, that
part mixes somewhat older and more recent contributions to the literature. Then I give an overview
of the features of the New Keynesian model that allow to assess the size of the costs and bene…ts of
in‡ation. Subsequently, I present the features of the in‡ation and price adjustment data that the
model should ideally match. Finally, I conclude and discuss some unresolved issues.
2 Costs and Bene…ts of In‡ation
In‡ation and Costly Price Adjustment
Arguably price adjustment is not completely costless. There are many factors that contribute to the
overall cost of price adjustment. There is for instance the labor cost of the people that decide on the
price adjustment, the cost of printing new price tags, the labor cost of physically changing the price
tag. Di¤erent goods have di¤erent costs of price adjustment. The costs for instance depend on the
type of market where the good is sold. If the good is sold in an auction, the costs of price adjustment
are likely to be lower than if the good is sold in a shop where each good carries a price tag. The
literature often uses the term menu costs, referring to the printing costs restaurants incur when they
change prices. But menu costs do not just comprise the costs of physically resetting prices, they
also comprise the costs of reoptimizing the price. In the presence of menu costs, higher in‡ation
will entail higher total costs (or a less e¢cient production) due to the more frequent adjustment of
Due to menu costs, a lot of …rms do not reset their price in response to every small change in
costs and demand. There will be a range in which they keep their price unchanged and tolerate
deviations of their actual price from its optimal level.1This generates a change in the distribution
of relative prices that does not re‡ect changes in productivity, which entails e¢ciency and welfare
losses. This cost is often referred to as a relative price distortion. In this way, small menu costs
can entail large welfare losses. Lach and Tsiddon (1992) for instance …nd evidence for Israel that
1The mere fact that the prices of some goods continuously adjust does not imply that the cost of price adjustment
is zero for these goods. The shocks to the optimal price of a good can be so large that the bene…ts of adjusting the
good’s price continuously outweigh the costs of price adjustment.
higher in‡ation pushes prices to both tails of the relative price distribution.
On the other hand, there can also exist bene…ts of higher in‡ation. In a world where nominal
wages cannot adjust downwardly, higher in‡ation decreases the real value of nominal wages. If due
to certain shocks optimal real wages need to decrease, small or zero changes in nominal wages still
entail real wage decreases that are optimal. This e¤ect is due to Tobin (1972) who stressed that in
this context in‡ation can "grease the wheels of the economy". Fagan and Messina (2008), using a
model with downward wage rigidity, conclude that for a number of European countries the optimal
steady-state in‡ation rate varies between 0 and 2%. For the United States, the estimates for the
optimal rate of in‡ation vary between 2% and 5%, depending on the data set they use.
In‡ation and the Value of Nominal Assets
In‡ation a¤ects the real value of nominal assets. This includes the real value of outstanding money
balances. Money is a special type of asset that on top of its function as a store of value, also has
a transactions function. When in‡ation a¤ects the real value of outstanding money balances, this
can a¤ect aggregate demand. In a model with perfect competition and costless price adjustment,
Cooley and Hansen (1989) do not …nd signi…cant e¤ects of in‡ation on output. Blanchard and
Kiyotaki (1987), however, assume imperfect competition and costly price adjustment and …nd that in
combination with sticky prices there are signi…cant e¤ects of changes in the money supply on output.
This illustrates how assumptions about in‡ation dynamics and price adjustment can determine
the e¤ects of monetary policy on output and welfare. It is therefore important to verify these
assumptions with empirical facts, so that we can discriminate between di¤erent theories.
Another cost of in‡ation comes from the combined role of the store of value and the transaction
technology of money. As holding money is not remunerated, the e¤ective nominal interest rate
is zero. With positive in‡ation, this creates an opportunity cost of holding money balances for
transactions. On the other hand, money makes transactions easier. Therefore, in‡ation determines
the number of times someone goes to the bank in order to withdraw money and in such a way tries
to reduce money balances. With higher average in‡ation and nominal interest rates people will cut
back money holdings as the opportunity cost increases, whereas the transaction bene…ts remain the
same. This generates more trips to the bank, which explains the origin of the term shoe leather
costs. In the literature this term covers all sorts of costs that are related to more cash management.
Another channel through which in‡ation can a¤ect the aggregate economy and economic welfare
is its role in generating real wealth redistributions across agents, in particular debtors and creditors.
Doepke and Schneider (2006a) show that in‡ation surprises can entail a substantial redistribution of
wealth among di¤erent groups of people. From an aggregate perspective it is not clear whether this
redistribution is a cost or a bene…t. This for instance depends on whether there is a wealth transfer
from people that are unproductive to people that are productive and invest. Doepke and Schneider
(2006b) …nd that for a zero sum redistribution shock through a surprise in in‡ation, households
react asymmetrically, mostly because borrowers are younger on average than lenders. As a result,
in‡ation generates a decrease in aggregate labor supply as well as an increase in savings. Even
though in‡ation-induced redistribution has a persistent negative e¤ect on output, it improves the
weighted welfare of households.
In an economy with a role for the government and nominal government debt, surprises in in‡ation
can also create a way to levy non-distortionary taxes. Because government debt is nominal the rate
of in‡ation determines the real debt burden the government needs to …nance. In the case of an
in‡ation surprise real government debt decreases signi…cantly without distorting economic activity
as is the case for labor and capital taxes. In e¤ect in‡ation can be a non-distortionary lump sum
However, higher in‡ation variability also increases risk premiums on nominal assets. See for
instance De Graeve et al. (2008) and Rudebusch and Swanson (2008) for evidence and explanations
of how higher in‡ation variability can increase the in‡ation risk premium that investors demand
on nominal assets. One related issue is that for long-term nominal debt contracts in‡ation a¤ects
the pro…le of real debt repayments. This can for instance distort the allocation of investment in
housing in a life-cycle model. Another related issue is that to hedge themselves against the risk of
in‡ation people invest relatively more in real assets compared to nominal assets that entail in‡ation
risk. This might not be welfare maximizing either.
In the case of negative in‡ation, or de‡ation, the real value of money increases. Holding money
then gives a positive real return. This can become problematic if the optimal real interest rate
should be lower than the rate of de‡ation. In that case the nominal interest rate hits the zero lower
bound, so that the central bank loses control over the real interest rate. The experience of Japan
in the nineties is a classic example of how detrimental a prolonged period of de‡ation - or of a
suboptimally high real interest rate - can be for the economic performance of a country. Krugman
(1998) analyzes the de‡ation episode in Japan during what has been called the Lost Decade.
Up to now I have listed the costs and bene…ts of in‡ation, and how the characteristics of in‡ation
can a¤ect economic welfare. I have not been able to perform a welfare analysis, so that we remain
unsure about the net welfare e¤ects of in‡ation. This can be done with the New Keynesian model.
The main virtue of this model is that it links the microeconomic price setting decisions of economic
agents to the behavior of in‡ation and other macroeconomic variables. In this way it allows us to
consider all the aspects of in‡ation and price adjustment in one coherent framework.
3 The New Keynesian Model
Today most of the questions raised in the previous section are studied in the New Keynesian model.
This model has been developed starting from a real business cycle model, adding monopolistic
competition, infrequent price adjustment, and a role for monetary policy. An overview of this
model can be found in Woodford (2003) and Gali (2008).
The model is basically a real business cycle model with two additional frictions. This allows
economists to bene…t from the virtues of the real business cycle model and its methodology to
address economic questions. The most important virtues are the explicit use of optimization of
agents and rational expectations. This is much more appealing than the ad hoc behavioral relations
that were posited in the older Keynesian literature. The …rst additional ingredient that is present
in the New Keynesian model is monopolistic price setting. Prices are not determined in perfectly
competitive markets, where the price equals the marginal cost of producing an additional unit.
Instead the price will be higher than the marginal cost, due to the monopoly power of an in…nite
number of di¤erentiated good producers. The di¤erentiated good producers are mostly incorporated
in the model using constant elasticity of substitution consumer preferences over an in…nite range
of goods as in Dixit and Stiglitz (1977). Nominal rigidities constitute a second ingredient that is
often modeled using a price adjustment cost. This gives rise to nominal prices that are not adjusted
continuously, which creates a constraint for …rms when they reset their prices. The combination
of imperfect competition and nominal rigidities generates the short run non-neutrality of monetary
policy. Money has not necessarily an explicit role in this model; it is just a unit of account.
Nevertheless, in‡ation is a purely monetary phenomenon. It is ultimately the central bank that
determines the price level and thus the in‡ation rate. Up to today people debate about whether
they should include a more explicit role for money in the model or not.
The New Keynesian model can be used to evaluate di¤erent policies, but before we can start
doing this we need to remove a number of remaining uncertainties about the extent to which di¤erent
frictions are important or not. The success or failure of this framework needs to be evaluated against
a number of properties of both macroeconomic and microeconomic data. Until a few years ago the
model was most often evaluated against macroeconomic data. This approach creates a number of
observational equivalences between di¤erent microeconomic models of price adjustment. Because
the welfare e¤ects crucially depend on the type of price adjustment the researcher assumes, we
also need to evaluate the microeconomic implications of the model. Therefore, since the last …ve
years people have increasingly studied the characteristics of microeconomic price adjustment using
large micro price datasets. The next two sections give an overview of the macroeconomic and
microeconomic statistical properties of the data and discuss which models are consistent with these
4 Post-War In‡ation Dynamics
Most research on the time series properties of in‡ation has focused on (i) the real e¤ects of monetary
shocks and (ii) the degree of in‡ation persistence in the data. The real e¤ects of monetary policy
shocks are determined by the reaction of in‡ation to a monetary policy shock. If in‡ation reacts
immediately and fully to a monetary shock, then there is little e¤ect on output. Concerning the
degree of in‡ation persistence, it has been quickly acknowledged that a simple version of the New
Keynesian model does not imply much persistence in in‡ation, even though at …rst sight that seems
to be a key characteristic of in‡ation.2
This spurred a lot of research on versions of the New
Keynesian model with frictions (e.g. habit persistence in consumption) that can generate more
in‡ation persistence. Today, there exists a widespread consensus about the existence of real e¤ects
of monetary policy shocks. The consensus view about the empirical degree of in‡ation persistence
today seems to be that at the business cycle frequency it is relatively low.
Evidence on the real e¤ects of a monetary policy shock and in‡ation persistence is not the
only source of evidence that researchers use to evaluate their monetary models. In addition, there
exist well-developed maximum likelihood and Bayesian methods (e.g. Smets and Wouters, 2007)
to confront our models with the data. These approaches compare the model at the same time to
di¤erent statistical properties of the data. Discussing these approaches lies beyond the scope of this
Evidence from VARs
One way to evaluate the New Keynesian model’s performance in matching macroeconomic statistical
properties is by comparing the model’s reaction to a monetary policy shock with the reaction in
the data. The response to a monetary policy shock in the data can be measured by a Vector
Autoregression (VAR). Christiano et al. (1999) survey the literature on evidence on the transmission
of monetary policy. They …nd that as the nominal interest rate increases, in‡ation, consumption,
investment and output persistently fall. This literature delivers empirical evidence that structural
models should try to match. Peersman and Smets (2003) use the same methodology for euro area
data and …nd very similar results as for the United States.
2See for instance Fuhrer and Moore (1995) and Fuhrer (2000) who point out the lack of in‡ation persistence in
the basic New Keynesian model.
Figure 1: Response to a One S.D. Monetary Policy Shock (Euro Area)
Note: The graph shows the responses of output and prices to a one standard deviation monetary
policy shock +/- two standard error con…dence bounds. The structural shocks are identi…ed using
a Choleski decomposition with ordering [output, consumer prices, policy interest rate]. This identi-
…cation scheme is widely used and similar to the one of Christiano et al. (1999) and Peersman and
Smets (2003). The data is quarterly, the sample is 1970:1-2007:4, and output and consumer prices
are seasonally adjusted and expressed in log terms. Data sources: Datastream, ECB, OECD.
In Figures 1 and 2, I present the results of a simple VAR comprising output, consumer prices
and the policy interest rate for the euro area and the United States. This exercise con…rms what
Christiano et al. (1999) and Peersman and Smets (2003) …nd for the United States and the euro
area. Output decreases after a tightening of monetary policy. Prices do not react much, or even
increase slightly in the short run.3
The evidence on the (persistent) e¤ects of monetary policy on output and the small e¤ects
on prices can discriminate between the models of Cooley and Hansen (1989) and Blanchard and
Kiyotaki (1987). The model of Cooley and Hansen (1989) is not able to replicate this evidence, so
that it is not as good a description of reality as the model with imperfect competition and sticky
3This short run increase is called the "price puzzle" as we would a priori expect that prices decrease after a
tightening of monetary policy. This phenomenon is widely documented for the United States. One conjecture is that
policy shocks which are associated with substantial price puzzles are actually confounded with nonpolicy disturbances
that signal future increases in prices, such as commodity price changes. Some authors therefore include a measure
for commodity prices in their VAR. This lies beyond the scope of this paper.
Figure 2: Response to a One S.D. Monetary Policy Shock (United States)
Note: See the note accompanying Figure 1.
prices of Blanchard and Kiyotaki (1987).
Evidence on In‡ation Persistence
In Figure 3, I present in‡ation data for the euro area, Germany and the United States. From
eyeballing this …gure it appears that in‡ation in the euro area and the United States is a fairly
persistent process. This is also con…rmed when I compute the autocorrelation of in‡ation for the
entire sample period 1955-2007 in Table 1. The autocorrelation coe¢cient of in‡ation in the United
States and the euro area is above 0.8. A common practice is to estimate a univariate autoregressive
time series model and to measure persistence as the sum of the autoregressive coe¢cients (e.g.
Fuhrer and Moore, 1995; Pivetta and Reis, 2007). In most of these studies, in‡ation exhibits
high to very high persistence during the post-war period, i.e. persistence is found to be close to
that of a random walk. We can design models that generate high in‡ation persistence using a
variety of frictions: backward-looking agents (Galí and Gertler, 1999), price indexation (Christiano
et al., 2005), consumption habit persistence (Christiano et al, 2005), learning (Milani, 2007), real
Figure 3: Post-War In‡ation
19551960 1965 1970197519801985 1990 199520002005
Note: The graph shows annualized log-di¤erences of quarterly seasonally ad-
justed CPI. See Table 1 for the data sources.
wage rigidities (Blanchard and Galí, 2007). For a particular calibration these frictions are able to
replicate the univariate reduced form in‡ation persistence. Importantly, this estimated persistence
is a measure of unconditional in‡ation persistence.
Levin and Piger (2004) argue that the high persistence is not intrinsic. Instead, it is due to
breaks in the mean of in‡ation due to changes in the monetary policy strategy. After all, such
high persistence is not present in Germany, where the central bank was granted independence much
before the central banks in the United States and the rest of the euro area. To test this hypothesis, in
Table 1, I distinguish three periods: the Golden Sixties (1955-1964), the Great In‡ation: 1965-1984,
and the Great Moderation: 1985-2007. The …rst period was characterized by relatively low in‡ation
with little persistence both in the United States and Germany. The second period is characterized
by high, volatile and persistent in‡ation for both the euro area and the United States. In Germany,
however, this rise in average in‡ation and persistence was much more muted than in the euro area
and the United States. The volatility of in‡ation in Germany even decreased during that period.
In the third period in‡ation is again low and exhibits low persistence.
Table 1: Statistical Properties of In‡ation
United States Euro area
Note: the statistics are computed using the annualized
quarterly log-di¤erenced seasonally adjusted CPI. The
source is OECD, except for the sample 1970-1998 for the
euro area, which comes from the AWM dataset of the
ECB. * The sample for the euro area only covers 1970-
This observation is in line with evidence that the high persistence of in‡ation during the seventies
was linked to the type of monetary policy regime in place (e.g. Benati, 2008).4The dynamics of
in‡ation went through substantial changes during the last …ve decades. For this reason, Dossche
and Everaert (2008) account for changes in the in‡ation target of the central bank when they
measure the degree of in‡ation persistence in the euro area and the United States. Changes in
4An alternative explanation for the high empirical in‡ation persistence is that it is caused by the aggregation of
microeconomic price paths that di¤er in their degree of persistence. See Altissimo et al. (2007) for how part of the
aggregate in‡ation persistence in the euro area can be explained by aggregation.
the in‡ation target can be due to genuine mistakes (Gali and Gertler, 1999), misperceptions of the
natural rates (Orphanides, 2002), or just ignorance about the natural rate principle that in‡ation
cannot permanently increase economic activity (Sargent et al., 2006). To paraphrase Friedman,
high in‡ation persistence is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon.
5 The Role of Price Setting and Some Evidence
Two assumptions are key in the New Keynesian model. First, there is monopolistic competition
in the goods market. This implies that …rms are price setters, and not price takers as in perfectly
competitive markets. The second assumption is costly price adjustment. This assumption always
goes together with monopolistic competition as then the price setter can make a trade-o¤ between
adjusting his price or not. Here I give an overview of the di¤erent ways costly price adjustment
is introduced in the model, and of the micro and macro implications. I also survey the empirical
There are two main ways of introducing costly price adjustment in the New Keynesian model.
First, there is time dependent price setting. Under this assumption some prices in the economy can
adjust in the current period, whereas other prices cannot adjust. Which prices can adjust and which
cannot is exogenously determined; it is not chosen by the …rms or price setters. One very popular
model is the Calvo (1983) model, which assumes that a randomly chosen fraction of prices, drawn
from a uniform distribution, can adjust. The model is popular because it gives rise to very simple
optimality conditions. This model implies, however, that some prices do not adjust for a very long
period. Even though there is some evidence of very long-lasting prices (Young and Levy, 2005), it
seems unlikely that prices do not adjust when the …rm makes losses and has to meet demand. Ascari
(2004) also shows that in the Calvo (1983) model the steady state output level is very sensitive to
the steady state money growth rate. Low levels of in‡ation imply large, and unrealistic, changes
in the steady state output level. Another popular time-dependent price setting model is the Taylor
(1980) price adjustment model. This model assumes that every period there is a certain cohort of
…rms that can adjust their prices. In this case the fraction of prices that can adjust is not random.
It is always the same cohort of prices that can adjust after, for instance, four quarters. This model
does not su¤er from the problems of the Calvo model under positive steady state in‡ation (Ascari,
A second way of introducing costly price adjustment is through explicitly assuming a cost of price
adjustment that the …rm needs to pay every time it changes its price. A popular model is the menu
cost model where there is a …xed cost to be paid every time the …rm adjusts its price. Because of the
non-linearity this implies that it is more di¢cult to solve the model using perturbation methods.
See, however, Dotsey et al. (1999) for an example of a menu-cost model that can be solved with
a perturbation method. In this model the frequency of price adjustment is endogenous. The …rms
that need the price adjustment most urgently adjust their prices …rst. This feature is also called the
selection e¤ect (Golosov and Lucas, 2007). It implies that the response of in‡ation to a monetary
shock is much faster than if the selection e¤ect were absent.
The model of Rotemberg (1982) assumes that the price adjustment cost is quadratic in the
size of the price adjustment. In this model the frequency of price adjustment is 100%; there is no
staggering of price adjustment. This is at odds with the micro data as I show below. However,
in a …rst order approximation the model delivers the same Phillips curve as under the Calvo price
adjustment. Lombardo and Vestin (2008) show how the choice for Calvo or Rotemberg pricing can
a¤ect the policy prescriptions of di¤erent models.
Another theory is the one proposed by Mankiw and Reis (2002). This theory assumes that
prices can be reset every period, but that the …rm can only infrequently choose the optimal rate of
price adjustment. Thus, information about the state of the economy is not immediately re‡ected
in price adjustment decisions. This creates a short-run impact of money on output.
All the previous models assume that agents are perfectly rational and (at least after some time)
perfectly informed. This implies that the natural rate hypothesis is respected. Output cannot be
increased forever by increasing the rate of in‡ation. One paper that proposes an alternative to the
natural rate hypothesis is the paper of Akerlof et al (2000). It argues that under low in‡ation,
price and wage setters do not fully update their decisions to their expectations. Therefore, slightly
higher in‡ation will push activity higher. As in‡ation gets higher they argue that then agents will
start updating their decisions again with in‡ation expectations. Therefore, small deviations from
the natural rate hypothesis are possible and e¢cient in that model.
Empirical Evidence and Implications for the Theory
The body of empirical research on costly price adjustment has been growing exponentially during
the last years. Usually the fact that goods prices do not change is taken as indirect evidence for
costs of price adjustment. This might be true under the assumption that the optimal price changes
continuously due to continuously changing costs and demand. However, it could as well be that
some goods prices do not change simply because costs and demand do not change. To alleviate this
identi…cation problem, there exists direct evidence on costly price adjustment. Levy et al. (1997)
and Zbaracki et al. (2004) …nd direct evidence for the costs of price adjustment from a supermarket
and an industrial …rm, respectively. They …nd that price adjustment costs amount to 0.7% or 1.23%
of revenues. Zbaracki et al. (2004) document that the direct cost of changing prices is very low.
However, the managerial and customer costs are quite substantial. So to implement a price change a
…rm needs to spend a lot of resources on organizing the price change within the …rm, and informing
and explaining the price change to the customers of the …rm.
Mills (1920) and Means (1927) are the earliest empirical studies of price adjustment. Between
then and the early 2000s there exist a large number of empirical studies of price adjustment. The
main characteristic of these studies is, however, that they only cover a subset of goods traded in
the economy. Some examples are Kashyap (1995) for retail catalogues and Cecchetti (1986) for
magazines. It took until Bils and Klenow (2004) and Nakamura and Steinsson (2008) before a large
scale study on US consumer prices was done. At about the same time, the central banks of the
euro area started a research project within the In‡ation Persistence Network (IPN). They study the
stickiness of consumer (Dhyne et al., 2006) and producer prices (Vermeulen et al, 2007) using micro
data underlying the CPI and PPI. In addition they survey (Fabiani et al., 2007) …rms about the
way they adjust prices. This study was similar in approach to the study of Blinder et al. (1998).
Angeloni et al. (2006) summarize some implications of this work for macroeconomic modeling. All
these studies allow us to calibrate macroeconomic models that cover almost the entire set of goods
traded in the economy.
The main statistic that these studies compute is the frequency of price adjustment, which ranges
between 10% and 30% depending on the sample period and country. They also study the size of
price adjustment and a number of other features of the price change distribution. The studies …nd
infrequent price adjustment compared to perfectly competitive markets. However, prices adjust too
fast to be able to match evidence from VARs on the output and in‡ation e¤ects of a monetary
policy shock in a New Keynesian model. This gives rise to yet another puzzle.
To solve this puzzle a series of papers have proposed real price rigidities (Ball and Romer, 1990).
Real rigidities refer to strategic complementarity in the price setting decision of …rms. A …rm is
more reluctant to adjust its price in response to changes in the state of the economy the less other
…rms adjust their prices. Di¤erent frictions can generate this strategic complementarity. One way
to introduce strategic complementarity is through the preference speci…cation of Kimball (1995).
In contrast to the traditional Dixit and Stiglitz (1977) aggregator, Kimball (1995) does not assume
a constant elasticity of demand. The price elasticity of demand becomes a function of the relative
price. A key concept is the curvature of the demand curve, which measures the price elasticity
of the price elasticity. When the curvature is positive, Kimball’s preferences generate a concave
or "kinked" demand curve in a log price/log quantity space. A price above the level of the …rm’s
competitors increases the elasticity of demand for its product, so that the …rm progressively loses
pro…ts from relative price increases. Conversely, a price below the level of the …rm’s competitors
reduces the elasticity of demand for its product, so that the …rm again progressively loses pro…ts
from relative price decreases. In this way the combination of small costs to nominal price adjustment
and a concave demand curve generates slow adjustment to changes in the state of the economy.
Despite its attractiveness, the literature su¤ers from a lack of empirical evidence on the curvature of
a typical demand curve. Calibrations of the curvature using macroeconomic data range from below
2 to above 400. The results in Dossche et al. (2008) using scanner data support the introduction
of a kinked (concave) demand curve in a representative …rm economy, but the median degree of
curvature is much lower than currently calibrated.
Another way to introduce real rigidities is by assuming a production chain. In industrialized
countries, 40% of the value of a consumption good is typically generated in the distribution stage,
whereas 60% of its value is generated in the production stage (Burstein et al., 2003). This slows
down aggregate price adjustment as price changes pass through the production chain. Cornille
and Dossche (2008) contribute to understanding the way producer prices adjust. They document
producer price adjustment using a Belgian micro price dataset. On average, 24% of prices adjust
each month, with an average increase/decrease of 6%. Producer prices adjust more frequently than
consumer prices, but their size of adjustment is typically smaller.
A particular feature of the micro data is that the size of price adjustment is large compared
to in‡ation. This implies that there must be large changes in relative prices.To match this
fact, one needs idiosyncratic shocks to be able to generate such big price changes (Golosov and
Lucas, 2007). Mackowiak and Wiederholt (2009) argue that when idiosyncratic conditions are
more variable or more important than aggregate conditions, …rms should pay more attention to
idiosyncratic conditions than to aggregate conditions. In that case, prices react fast and by large
amounts to idiosyncratic shocks, but only slowly and by small amounts to nominal shocks.
Another source of large price changes are price markdowns that are mainly present in micro
consumer price data and not in producer price data (Cornille and Dossche, 2008; Vermeulen et al.,
2007). Nakamura and Steinsson (2008) argue that it is important to distinguish price changes due
to temporary price markdowns and regular price changes because they are fundamentally di¤erent.
Temporary price changes are much more transient than regular price changes, and after a temporary
price decrease prices often return to the initial regular price level. Kehoe and Midrigan (2007) argue
that if one explicitly accounts for price markdowns in a macro model, the implications of the model
are signi…cantly di¤erent from those of a model without price markdowns. The di¤erence between
a price path that excludes the markdowns, and one that includes them, is shown in Figure 4.
Figure 4: Example of a Price Trajectory: Potatoes
16 11 16 2126313641 4651 566166 717681 86
Price excl. markdowns
Price incl. markdowns
Source: Dossche et al. (2008)
The details of price setting models raise a lot of issues because they determine the welfare costs
of di¤erent policies. So it is very important to be able to compare the microeconomic implications of
these models with microeconomic data. The macroeconomic data cannot deliver a …rm conclusion.
With respect to time- versus state-dependent price setting, evidence from Klenow and Kryvtsov
(2008) and Gagnon (2008) suggests that a time-dependent model is consistent with an economy
with low in‡ation such as the United States today. However, for an economy with high in‡ation
such as Mexico during the Peso crisis of 1994, a state dependent model seems to be more useful.
A time-dependent model fails to match the increased frequency of price adjustment as in‡ation
reaches higher levels. However, Mackowiak and Smets (2008) argue that the microeconomic data
can narrow the range of models that match the data, but that even with the microeconomic data
there remains uncertainty about what price setting frictions are more realistic. One way out of this
could be to further exploit survey evidence as in Blinder et al (1998) and Fabiani et al. (2004) to
shed more light on how price setters process information and at what stage of the price adjustment
process they incur signi…cant costs.
6 Conclusion and Some Unresolved Issues
During the last …ve years there has been much interest in understanding in‡ation and price dy-
namics. First, this is due to the emergence of a microfounded modeling framework with explicit
optimization of agents and rational expectations. This implies that questions of central bank com-
mitment and discretion can be analyzed in these models. Second, there is now access to new
databases that signi…cantly increases the microeconomic evidence on price adjustment. In addition,
there is the macroeconomic evidence from VARs (e.g. Christiano et al., 1999) and Bayesian model
evaluations (Smets and Wouters, 2007) and evidence on in‡ation persistence.
Whereas during the eighties and nineties central banks had turned away from formal analysis5,
they are now investing more and more resources in improving the New Keynesian model as well
as using it for policy analysis and forecasting (see e.g. Smets and Wouters, 2003, 2007). Today
the Swedish central bank even publishes optimal macroeconomic forecasts based on a version of
the New Keynesian model (Adolfson et al., 2008). This type of analysis is currently becoming an
important tool in many other central banks.
However, there remain a number of unresolved issues. Even though the microeconomic evidence
5In the 1980s and 1990s, many central banks continued to use reduced-form statistical models to produce forecasts
of the economy that presumed no structural change, but they did so knowing that these models could not be used
with any degree of con…dence to predict the outcome of policy changes.
has substantially narrowed the range of models that can explain the macroeconomic facts, there
remains substantial uncertainty about the right model. There is for instance the issue of how
to interpret relatively frequent price adjustment in the microeconomic data and the persistent
output e¤ects of a monetary policy shock. There are a number of theories that can generate real
rigidity in response to a nominal shock. Some rely on strategic complementarity in the price setting
decision (Kimball, 1995; Burstein and Hellwig, 2008), other theories rely on staggered information
‡ows (Mankiw and Reis, 2002), or optimal information processing of an idiosyncratic or aggregate
source (Mackowiak and Wiederholt, 2009). A second issue is whether we need to take into account
temporary price markdowns explicitly in our macroeconomic models. It is not yet clear how this
a¤ects the aggregate dynamics and welfare. More evidence from surveying price setters might
improve our understanding of price and in‡ation dynamics, so that we can converge on one model
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NBB WORKING PAPER No. 165 - JUNE 2009
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1. "Model-based inflation forecasts and monetary policy rules" by M. Dombrecht and R. Wouters, Research
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"The use of robust estimators as measures of core inflation" by L. Aucremanne, Research Series,
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95. "Inflation persistence and price-setting behaviour in the euro area: a summary of the Inflation Persistence
Network evidence ", by F. Altissimo, M. Ehrmann and F. Smets, Research series, October 2006.
96. "How Wages Change: Micro Evidence from the International Wage Flexibility Project", by W.T. Dickens,
L. Goette, E.L. Groshen, S. Holden, J. Messina, M.E. Schweitzer, J. Turunen and M. Ward, Research
series, October 2006.
97. "Nominal wage rigidities in a new Keynesian model with frictional unemployment", by V. Bodart,
G. de Walque, O. Pierrard, H.R. Sneessens and R. Wouters, Research series, October 2006.
98. "Dynamics on monetary policy in a fair wage model of the business cycle", by D. De la Croix,
G. de Walque and R. Wouters, Research series, October 2006.
99. "The kinked demand curve and price rigidity: evidence from scanner data", by M. Dossche, F. Heylen
and D. Van den Poel, Research series, October 2006.
100. "Lumpy price adjustments: a microeconometric analysis", by E. Dhyne, C. Fuss, H. Peseran and
P. Sevestre, Research series, October 2006.
101. "Reasons for wage rigidity in Germany", by W. Franz and F. Pfeiffer, Research series, October 2006.
102. "Fiscal sustainability indicators and policy design in the face of ageing", by G. Langenus, Research
series, October 2006.
103. "Macroeconomic fluctuations and firm entry: theory and evidence", by V. Lewis, Research series,
104. "Exploring the CDS-Bond Basis" by J. De Wit, Research series, November 2006.
105. "Sector Concentration in Loan Portfolios and Economic Capital", by K. Düllmann and N. Masschelein,
Research series, November 2006.
106. "R&D in the Belgian Pharmaceutical Sector", by H. De Doncker, Document series, December 2006.
107. "Importance et évolution des investissements directs en Belgique", by Ch. Piette, Document series,
108. "Investment-Specific Technology Shocks and Labor Market Frictions", by R. De Bock, Research series,
109. "Shocks and frictions in US Business cycles: a Bayesian DSGE Approach", by F. Smets and R. Wouters,
Research series, February 2007.
110. "Economic impact of port activity: a disaggregate analysis. The case of Antwerp", by F. Coppens,
F. Lagneaux, H. Meersman, N. Sellekaerts, E. Van de Voorde, G. van Gastel, Th. Vanelslander,
A. Verhetsel, Document series, February 2007.
111. "Price setting in the euro area: some stylised facts from individual producer price data", by
Ph. Vermeulen, D. Dias, M. Dossche, E. Gautier, I. Hernando, R. Sabbatini, H. Stahl, Research series,
112. "Assessing the Gap between Observed and Perceived Inflation in the Euro Area: Is the Credibility of the
HICP at Stake?", by L. Aucremanne, M. Collin, Th. Stragier, Research series, April 2007.
113. "The spread of Keynesian economics: a comparison of the Belgian and Italian experiences", by I. Maes,
Research series, April 2007.
114. "Imports and Exports at the Level of the Firm: Evidence from Belgium", by M. Muûls and M. Pisu,
Research series, May 2007.
115. "Economic importance of the Belgian ports: Flemish maritime ports and Liège port complex - report
2005", by F. Lagneaux, Document series, May 2007.
116. "Temporal Distribution of Price Changes: Staggering in the Large and Synchronization in the Small", by
E. Dhyne and J. Konieczny, Research series, June 2007.
117. "Can excess liquidity signal an asset price boom?", by A. Bruggeman, Research series, August 2007.
118. "The performance of credit rating systems in the assessment of collateral used in Eurosystem monetary
policy operations", by F. Coppens, F. González and G. Winkler, Research series, September 2007.
119. "The determinants of stock and bond return comovements", by L. Baele, G. Bekaert and K. Inghelbrecht,
Research series, October 2007.
NBB WORKING PAPER No. 165 - JUNE 2009
120. "Monitoring pro-cyclicality under the capital requirements directive: preliminary concepts for developing a
framework", by N. Masschelein, Document series, October 2007.
121. "Dynamic order submission strategies with competition between a dealer market and a crossing
network", by H. Degryse, M. Van Achter and G. Wuyts, Research series, November 2007.
122. "The gas chain: influence of its specificities on the liberalisation process", by C. Swartenbroekx,
Document series, November 2007.
123. "Failure prediction models: performance, disagreements, and internal rating systems", by J. Mitchell and
P. Van Roy, Research series, December 2007.
124. "Downward wage rigidity for different workers and firms: an evaluation for Belgium using the IWFP
procedure", by Ph. Du Caju, C. Fuss and L. Wintr, Research series, December 2007.
125. "Economic importance of Belgian transport logistics", by F. Lagneaux, Document series, January 2008.
126. "Some evidence on late bidding in eBay auctions", by L. Wintr, Research series, January 2008.
127. "How do firms adjust their wage bill in Belgium? A decomposition along the intensive and extensive
margins", by C. Fuss, Research series, January 2008.
128. "Exports and productivity – comparable evidence for 14 countries", by The International Study Group on
Exports and Productivity, Research series, February 2008.
129. "Estimation of monetary policy preferences in a forward-looking model: a Bayesian approach", by
P. Ilbas, Research series, March 2008.
130. "Job creation, job destruction and firms' international trade involvement", by M. Pisu, Research series,
131. "Do survey indicators let us see the business cycle? A frequency decomposition", by L. Dresse and
Ch. Van Nieuwenhuyze, Research series, March 2008.
132. "Searching for additional sources of inflation persistence: the micro-price panel data approach", by
R. Raciborski, Research series, April 2008.
133. "Short-term forecasting of GDP using large monthly datasets - A pseudo real-time forecast evaluation
exercise", by K. Barhoumi, S. Benk, R. Cristadoro, A. Den Reijer, A. Jakaitiene, P. Jelonek, A. Rua,
G. Rünstler, K. Ruth and Ch. Van Nieuwenhuyze, Research series, June 2008.
134. "Economic importance of the Belgian ports: Flemish maritime ports, Liège port complex and the port of
Brussels - report 2006" by S. Vennix, Document series, June 2008.
135. "Imperfect exchange rate pass-through: the role of distribution services and variable demand elasticity",
by Ph. Jeanfils, Research series, August 2008.
136. "Multivariate structural time series models with dual cycles: Implications for measurement of output gap
and potential growth", by Ph. Moës, Research series, August 2008.
137. "Agency problems in structured finance - a case study of European CLOs", by J. Keller, Document
series, August 2008.
138. "The efficiency frontier as a method for gauging the performance of public expenditure: a Belgian case
study", by B. Eugène, Research series, September 2008.
139. "Exporters and credit constraints. A firm-level approach", by M. Muûls, Research series, September
140. "Export destinations and learning-by-exporting: Evidence from Belgium", by M. Pisu, Research series,
141. "Monetary aggregates and liquidity in a neo-Wicksellian framework", by M. Canzoneri, R. Cumby,
B. Diba and D. López-Salido, Research series, October 2008.
142 "Liquidity, inflation and asset prices in a time-varying framework for the euro area, by Ch. Baumeister,
E. Durinck and G. Peersman, Research series, October 2008.
143. "The bond premium in a DSGE model with long-run real and nominal risks", by Glenn D. Rudebusch and
Eric T. Swanson, Research series, October 2008.
144. "Imperfect information, macroeconomic dynamics and the yield curve: an encompassing macro-finance
model", by H. Dewachter, Research series, October 2008.
145. "Housing market spillovers: evidence from an estimated DSGE model", by M. Iacoviello and S. Neri,
Research series, October 2008.
146. "Credit frictions and optimal monetary policy", by V. Cúrdia and M. Woodford, Research series,
147. "Central Bank misperceptions and the role of money in interest rate rules", by G. Beck and V. Wieland,
Research series, October 2008.
148. "Financial (in)stability, supervision and liquidity injections: a dynamic general equilibrium approach", by
G. de Walque, O. Pierrard and A. Rouabah, Research series, October 2008.
NBB WORKING PAPER No. 165 - JUNE 2009
149. "Monetary policy, asset prices and macroeconomic conditions: a panel-VAR study", by
K. Assenmacher-Wesche and S. Gerlach, Research series, October 2008.
150. "Risk premiums and macroeconomic dynamics in a heterogeneous agent model", by F. De Graeve,
M. Dossche, M. Emiris, H. Sneessens and R. Wouters, Research series, October 2008.
151. "Financial factors in economic fluctuations", by L. J. Christiano, R. Motto and M. Rotagno, Research
series, to be published.
152. "Rent-sharing under different bargaining regimes: Evidence from linked employer-employee data", by
M. Rusinek and F. Rycx, Research series, December 2008.
153. "Forecast with judgment and models", by F. Monti, Research series, December 2008.
154. "Institutional features of wage bargaining in 23 European countries, the US and Japan", by Ph. Du Caju,
E. Gautier, D. Momferatou and M. Ward-Warmedinger, Research series, December 2008.
155. "Fiscal sustainability and policy implications for the euro area", by F. Balassone, J. Cunha, G. Langenus,
B. Manzke, J Pavot, D. Prammer and P. Tommasino, Research series, January 2009.
156. "Understanding sectoral differences in downward real wage rigidity: workforce composition, institutions,
technology and competition", by Ph. Du Caju, C. Fuss and L. Wintr, Research series, February 2009.
157. "Sequential bargaining in a New Keynesian model with frictional unemployment and staggered wage
negotiation", by G. de Walque, O. Pierrard, H. Sneessens and R. Wouters, Research series, February
158. "Economic Importance of Air Transport and Airport Activities in Belgium", by F. Kupfer and F. Lagneaux,
Document series, March 2009.
159. "Rigid labour compensation and flexible employment? Firm-Level evidence with regard to productivity for
Belgium", by C. Fuss and L. Wintr, Research series, March 2009.
160. "The Belgian Iron and Steel Industry in the International Context", by F. Lagneaux and D. Vivet,
Document series, March 2009.
161. "Trade, wages and productivity", by K. Behrens, G. Mion, Y. Murata and J. Südekum, Research series,
162. "Labour flows in Belgium", by P. Heuse and Y. Saks, Research series, April 2009.
163. "The young Lamfalussy: an empirical and policy-oriented growth theorist", by I. Maes, Research series,
164. "Inflation dynamics with labour market matching: assessing alternative specifications", by K. Christoffel,
J. Costain, G. de Walque, K. Kuester, T. Linzert, S. Millard and O. Pierrard, Research series, May 2009.
165. "Understanding inflation dynamics: Where do we stand?", by M. Dossche, Research series, June 2009.