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The Power of Price Indexes
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Raymond Cheung and Mike Waterson
World Economics, March 2011
Price indexes are the most important of all economic indicators simply because they are the tool used to calculate the real size, speed and direction of all forms of economic activity. Price indexes are compiled almost everywhere, but with major differences in method and sampling procedures. Some methods and procedures have led to significant errors. Even in the case of a country as advanced as Japan, critics have calculated that imperfections in method have led to a rate of price inflation around 1.8% per year above the level a true cost of living index would have shown. Further research undertaken by World Economics has attempted to make estimates for changes in discounting and promotional practices at the retail level. The conclusion is that, in reality, the overestimation of price changes by the Japanese CPI in recent years may well have been in excess of 2% per annum, and could have been significantly more. Different CPI assumptions change economic growth estimates dramatically. Using World Economics estimates, adding in a minimum figure for marketing and retail changes seen in recent years suggests, contrary to official data, that Japanese consumption growth exceeded that of the US.
Some Proposed Methodological Developments for the UK Retail Prices Index
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Mick Silver, World Economics, March 2003
The Retail Prices Index (RPI) is one of the UK’s most important macroeconomic indicators, as well as being used for indexation/adjustments for inflation to wages and benefits. This paper argues that the dynamic changes in product markets and consumers’ responses to price changes need to be incorporated into the RPI if it is to effectively measure changes in the cost of living. The quite positive and innovative work undertaken by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) is acknowledged. However, the basis of the RPI, in measuring the price changes of a matched, fixed basket of goods, is considered inappropriate to modern markets. Some proposals are made.

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