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Price dispersion and price indexes

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The traditional theory of price index numbers is based on the law of one price. But in the real world, we frequently observe the existence of an equilibrium price dispersion instead of one price of equilibrium. This article discusses the effects of price dispersion on two price indexes: the cost of living index and the consumer price index. With price dispersion and consumer searching for the lowest price, these indexes cannot be interpreted as deterministic indicators, but as stochastic indicators, and they can be biased if price dispersion is not taken into account. A measure for the bias of the consumer price index is proposed and the article ends with an estimation of the bias based on data obtained from the consumer price index calculated for the city of Sao Paulo, Brazil, from January 1988 through December 2004. The period analysed is very interesting, because it exhibits different inflationary environments: high levels and high volatility of the rates of inflation with great price dispersion until July 1994 and low and relatively stable rates of inflation with prices less dispersed after August 1994.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Economics, University of Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo 05439-010, Brazil

Publication date: 2010-01-01

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