Data from Statistics Estonia show that the consumer price index was 0,6% higher in March than in February. The price level was 0.6% lower compared to March 2014 and consumer prices have been falling for ten consecutive months, year-on-year. Preliminary data indicate that the harmonised consumer price deflation for the euro area was 0.1% in March, which is the smallest price decrease over the past four months.
In the first three months of this year, consumer prices were mostly influenced by major price fluctuations on commodities markets. After a sharp price decrease at the start of 2015, the price of motor fuels went up by a total of 12% in February and March. In addition to the growth of crude oil prices on global markets, the price of motor fuels in monthly terms was pushed up by the simultaneous depreciation of the euro. Motor fuels were, however, 11% cheaper than a year earlier and this is probably the reason behind the price drop of many transport services in March.
At the same time, the euro was 4.3% lower against the dollar than in February, but compared to the peak of 2008, the euro is now approximately 30% cheaper. The depreciation of the euro should cause a pick-up in inflation, but so far, the impact on inflation has been small. The influence of exchange rate fluctuations on consumer prices is limited because of the large share of other euro area countries in Estonian foreign trade: about a fifth of the cost of imported goods are open to exchange rate changes. Capital goods and the intermediate consumption of companies are imported more often on the basis of contracts in foreign currency, and the price changes of such goods are passed into consumer prices over a longer period of time. Such transactions make up around 12% of consumer goods imports. However, the depreciation of the euro against the dollar has been offset by the appreciation of the euro against the rouble, which has made imports from Russia cheaper.
Most food prices were lower in March compared to the year before, but alcohol prices grew due to a rise in excise rates. The fall in food prices was influenced by global markets: the price index of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, which reflects prices on global markets, was about 18% lower in March than a year earlier. Food prices have been falling since early 2014, both because of an increase in inventories and good harvests. However, the impact of Russian sanctions has become greater and led to lower prices for milk and meat products on the internal market of the European Union.
Eesti Pank estimates that the cost of the consumer basket price in 2015 will remain on the same level as last year. The fall in consumer prices is likely to continue over the coming months. Price increases may still be expected in the second half of the year, as domestic inflation is growing and the fall in energy prices is decreasing.
Source: Bank of Estonia
Author: Rasmus Kattai, economist at Eesti Pank