Article byWallstreetmojo Team
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

Deflation Meaning

Deflation is defined as an economic condition whereby the prices of goods and services go down constantly with the inflation rate turning negative. The situation generally emerges from the contraction of the money supply in the economy.

Many economists consider deflation worse than inflation as it is usually accompanied by a fall in the aggregate demandAggregate DemandAggregate Demand is the overall demand for all the goods and the services in a country and is expressed as the total amount of money which is exchanged for such goods and services. It is a relationship between all the things which are bought within the country with their more, collective wages, investments and employment.

Key Takeaways

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Understanding Deflation and its Impact

Deflation is a situation that arises when there is a fall in the general prices of goods and services in an economic systemEconomic SystemThere are four prominent types of economic systems in the world based on their characteristics. It includes traditional economy, command economy, market economy and mixed economy. read more. The fall could result from stagnant growth or due to the central bank’s contractionary monetary policy to restrict the money supply. Deflation is bad for an economy, even though it increases the purchasing power of money.

When prices fall constantly, consumption declines, as people wait for the rates to decrease more to make a cheaper purchase. With more supply and less demand, prices fall further. Less business leads to less income, which forces companies to pay low wages or lay off workers.

Consumer income falls further, and they start saving more for rainy days. This further reduces the aggregate demand. Moreover, debt becomes expensive as less supply of money makes interest rates rise. If not controlled, the situation could fall into a vicious cycle leading to conditions like the Great DepressionGreat DepressionThe Great Depression refers to the long-standing financial crisis in the history of the modern world. It began in the United States on October 29, 1929, with the Wall Street Crash and lasted till more.

During the Great Depression, the real GDPReal GDPReal GDP can be described as an inflation-adjusted measure that reflects the value of services and goods produced in a single year by an economy, expressed in the prices of the base year, and is also known as "constant dollar GDP" or "inflation corrected GDP."read more in the US had declined by 30 %. Also, the Wholesale Price IndexWholesale Price IndexThe Wholesale Price Index tracks the price movement of products in a set territory and wholesaler jurisdiction. Wholesalers provide, manage, and control commodities, usually commonly traded goods, before they are sent to more (WPI) had fallen by 33%. WPI and Consumer Price IndexConsumer Price IndexThe Consumer Price Index (CPI) is a measure of the average price of a basket of regularly used consumer commodities compared to a base year. The CPI for the base year is 100, and this is the benchmark more (CPI) track the retail prices of commonly purchased commodities by households, which helps in measuring inflation and deflation. Therefore, if the CPI is indicating fallen prices from a previous period, it will suggest deflation.

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Causes of Deflation 

  1. A recession struck or stagnant economy gives rise to excessive price fall when unemployment and low wages leave less money in the hands of consumers. They spend less, save more, reducing aggregate demand and investments which leads to fallen prices.
  2. When the central bank of a nation adopts a contractionary monetary policyContractionary Monetary PolicyContractionary monetary policy is the type of economic policy that is basically used to deal with inflation and it also involves minimizing the fund’s supply in order to bring an enhancement in the cost of borrowings which will ultimately lower the gross domestic product and moderate or decrease inflation more for extended periods such as interest rate hikes to curb inflation or the excessive money supply, it can cause deflation. Credit becomes expensive with interest hikes, hindering banks’ lending facility causing a cash crunch amongst the public.
  3. A particular segment of the economy can also experience excessive price fall. If there is over production and not a proportionate increase in buyers, it makes the product less expensive due to over-supply and less demand. An example is China’s 2009 crisis in which the economy experienced deflation in factory prices due to price declines globally and over production capacity.
  4. Another prominent reason is perfect competitionPerfect CompetitionPerfect competition is a market in which there are a large number of buyers and sellers, all of whom initiate the buying and selling mechanism. Furthermore, no restrictions apply in such markets, and there is no direct competition. It is assumed that all of the sellers sell identical or homogenous more in a particular industry or sector, which forces entities to reduce product prices to survive the competition. Technology sector is often battling this issue.
  5. The phenomena can stem from reduced production costs as well. The cost of production steeps down because of technological advancement, discovery of newer and cheaper resources. Overall decline in inputs reduces pricing of goods or service.  

Real-World Examples of Deflation

1. In an Economy

This Financial Times report recounts how Japan battled mild deflation throughout the 2000s. It occurred after a troublesome 1990s owing to the housing bubble burst and banking crisis. As a result, its CPI became negative in 1998. Since then, Japan’s efforts have been to bring inflation to 2%. However, even till 2020, Japan’s inflation rate was 0.4 %.

A 2% inflation is widely considered ideal for stimulating economic growth. Therefore, Japan relied on monetary easing methods such as zero interest rates, asset buying, etc., to enhance money circulation. However, many experts suggest falling consumption, high savings and an ageing population hindering Japan’s growth.

2. Within a Financial Sector

A single sector of the economy, such as technology, automobile, factory, etc., also battles with stagnant prices. As the Covid-19 pandemic spread across the world, many of China’s factories slipped into critical deflation.

In April 2020, China saw its Producer Price Index falling by 3.1% than 2019’s figures. Oil price decline, sluggish demand, and falling pork consumption were seen as major contributors to stagnant prices.

How to Tackle Deflation?

When governments undertake deflation curbing measures, the idea is to increase the availability of money in the hands of consumers. Low-income fuels consumer savings as they feel insecure about their financial security.

With enhanced income, consumer spending normally goes up, increasing the aggregate demand and eventually the prices. Businesses start employing more using enhanced profits. Wages and employment rates climb up, bringing the economy back on track.

  1. Central banks can take various measures to promote liquidityLiquidityLiquidity is the ease of converting assets or securities into more by ensuring an increased money supply in the economy. It includes buying back of government securities, cutting down short-term interest rates to enhance banks’ lending and reducing reserve requirementsReserve RequirementsReserve Requirement is the minimum liquid cash amount in a proportion of its total deposit that is required to be kept either in the bank or deposited in the central bank, in such a way that the bank cannot access it for any business or economic more.
  2. For example, in Japan as part of the monetary easing plan, the interest rates were kept near-zero to stimulate borrowing. Additionally, Japan and European Central BankEuropean Central BankThe European Central Bank is the apex bank of the member European countries, monitoring the banking and financial functions of all member countries in order to maintain the price stability of the European currency, the more (ECB) had also brought in negative interest rates. The move encourages banks to lend excess reserveExcess ReserveExcess reserves are kept or deposited with the central regulatory authority over and above the statutory requirements. If reserves are positive, the bank has held the amount in reserves more than the statutory requirement. In the case of zero value, there is no deficit or surplus reserves balance more to escape additional charges from the central bank.
  3. Quantitative easingQuantitative EasingQuantitative easing (QE) is an advanced monetary policy of central banks to stimulate growth in a stagnant economy by large scale buying of government bonds and other more (QE) – Some countries have adopted a QE policy to eliminate sluggish growths by enhancing the money supply. Under QE, central banks issue new money electronically by large scale buying of bonds and other securities from the open market. It is implemented at an advanced stage when standard growth stimulating tools have failed to arrest the economic crisis. Japan has been undertaking QE measures relentlessly for many years to push more money in circulation.
  4. Methods vary as per economies. Japan also introduced yield curveYield CurveA yield curve is a plot of bond yields of a particular issuer on the vertical axis (Y-axis) against various tenors/maturities on the horizontal axis (X-axis). The slope of the yield curve provides an estimate of expected interest rate fluctuations in the future and the level of economic activity. read more control as part of the QE. This involved keeping the yield on its 10-year government at zero, a move to stimulate banks’ profit.
  5. Besides, the finance ministry introduces fiscal policy reforms like lessening tax rates and escalating public expenditure for ensuring higher disposable incomeDisposable IncomeDisposable income is an important mechanism to measure household incomes, and includes all sorts of income such as wages and salaries, retirement income, investment gains. In other words, it is the amount of money left after paying off all the direct more to stimulate spendings.

Deflation vs Inflation vs Disinflation

As we have already discussed, deflation is termed as negative inflation when the commodity prices keep falling and inflation occurs when the prices of commodities are on the rise.

Disinflation is an economic phase that is marked by a reduction in the inflation rate, and it is distinct from deflation, where inflation becomes negative. So, inflation could be rising under disinflation but at a slower pace. Let us take at how these three concepts differ from each other.

MeaningEconomic slowdown as the prices of goods and services decline.An economic condition where the prices of goods and services increase.Economic correction where the rate of inflation declines.
CausesFall in demand, high supply – low demand, contraction of money supply interest hikes and low investmentIncrease in demand, higher expansion of money supply, low-interest rates and higher investmentContractionary fiscal or monetary measures, recession
EffectsIncreases the purchasing power of money, unemployment, wages cut, poor revenue generation.Decreases the purchasing power of money, high cost of living and widening income gapDecrease in inflation rates but not real inflation.
SolutionExpansionary monetaryExpansionary MonetaryThe central bank uses expansionary monetary policy to increase the supply of money while lowering the interest rate and increasing demand. This is done to boost a country's more and fiscal policies.Contractionary monetary and fiscal policies, increase in savings.Implementation of mixed policies.
BenefitsShort-lived fallen prices are beneficial due to the availability of cheaper goods and services.2% inflation is good for economic growth, business profitability and wage incrementGeneral price level stability or gradual price rise, economic growth, and gradual GDP and aggregate demand increase.


What is deflation in economics?

Deflation in economics is negative inflation (below 0%) that occurs when a country or an industrial sector experiences a decrease in the price of its products and services due to monetary contraction.

What causes deflation?

The two main reasons behind deflation are:
1. Downfall in demand for goods and services with increased supply: When there is an oversupply than the required demand, it leads to falling prices. Additionally, recession triggers low wages, joblessness, money supply contraction, expensive credit, etc., decreasing consumer income and spending.
2. Inflation controlling measures such as interest rate hikes by the Fed also leads to lesser borrowing and investments, reducing consumers’ purchasing might.

Who benefits from deflation?

Economies at times need to curtail rising prices, especially during extended inflation to enhance affordability. For business, it paves the way towards technological advancement and production scalability due to low cost. As a result, money’s purchasing power also increases.

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