- Q1 GDP Growth Jumps 1.1% on Strong Personal Consumption
- A Strong March Leads to a Surge in Chinese GDP in Q1 2023
- Durable Goods Retail Sales Suffer from High Interest Rates and Wary Consumers
- Choppy GDP Means UK Should Avoid Q1 Recession
- Japanese Consumer Confidence Jumps to Highest Level in Over a Year
- The End of Summer Sees the End of Disinflation in Europe
- Labor Market Indicators are Starting to Unify on Easing in Hiring
- Inflation and Tight Financial Conditions Weigh on the German Consumer
- Euro Area Money Supply Contracts for the First Time Since 2010
- Dismal Economic Data Out of Germany
- Core Durable Goods New Orders See Gentle Uptrend in July
- More UK Data Pointing to Q3 Decline
- Whispers of a UK Contraction in Q3
- Japan's Core Inflation Resumes Uptrend in July
- Early July Economic Data Leads to a Sharp Increase in Q3 Growth Expectations
- UK CPI: Energy Inflation Crashes but Services Inflation is Still Sticky
- China's Weak Start to Q3 Means More PBoC Easing
- A Breather for the Eurozone as Inflation Hits Two-Year Low
- Germany's September CPI Report: A Clearer Picture of Inflation Trends
- US Manufacturing Demonstrates Resilience Amidst Volatility in August
- The ECB Prepares to Address Excess Liquidity Through the MRR
- Bank of Japan is Too Optimistic on Inflation
- The Bank of England Pauses in a Near Split Decision
- UK Inflation August Update: A Precursor to the Bank of England's Announcement
- Housing Starts Tumble in August Amid Rising Mortgage Rates
- US Retail Sales Grow at Fastest Monthly Rate Since the Start of the Year
- US Consumer Prices Surge in August Driven by Energy Costs
- August NFIB Survey Showed a Tough Environment for Small Businesses
- All Signs Point to a Weaker Labor Market in August
- Chinese CPI Trying to Buck the Deflation Trend
- Energy Prices Rise but the Core Disinflationary Trend is Maintained in September
- PPI's Quiet Rise and the Energy Elephant in the Room
- Small Businesses Grapple with Inflation and Financial Strain in September
- A Wacky September Jobs Report Shows Strong Labor Market
- A Look at the Fragile US Labor Market Ahead of the Nonfarm Payrolls Report
- Thoughts on GME and This Week in the Stock Market
- Record Home Price Levels Point to Strength in Post-Pandemic Economy
- The Stock Market Looks Overvalued, but It's Probably Not
- China GDP Growth Surpasses Expectations
- President-elect Joe Biden Introduces His "American Rescue Plan"
- Political Polarization Intensifies with Another Impeachment Along Party Lines
- Metal Demand Has a Bright Future in 2021 and Beyond
- What Happened to That US-China Trade Dispute?
- Civil Unrest, A Rising Threat to the 2021 Economy
- What's in the $900 Billion Relief Plan?
Inflation is Getting Broader, Not Cooler
January 20, 2022
Inflation is 7%. You definitely don't say that every day. In fact, you probably haven't said it since the 1980's (assuming you could talk back then). The December CPI report capped off a year of volatile prices. In the second half of 2021, we saw a rapid increase in inflation caused by supply disruptions and surging demand. The latest report suggests those factors are persisting into 2022.
We got to this point thanks to gains in two particular subindexes: energy and vehicle commodities. Supply shortages in the energy and automotive industries were some of the first to crop up and made headlines over the summer. Both also suffered from the recession of demand during the pandemic which set back capacity utilization when economic activity resumed at a stronger pace. The initial thinking was that these shortages could be temporary since they could be resolved by supply ramping up. That resolution hasn't come.
Everyone has seen rising energy prices as they pass by gas stations in their car, and they feel the pain when their tank nears empty. The index for energy prices started its sharp rise in Q1 2021 reaching an annual gain of nearly 28% in May before flattening out shortly over the summer. The trend continued in October when Energy CPI recorded a 4.8% monthly increase. The index was just slightly off its high (made in November) in December after it registered its first monthly decline since April.
Retail gasoline prices have followed a similar trend but without the slight pause in May. In fact, the -2.6% monthly decline seen in December was the first of the year and that still left prices above the October 2021 peak and up over 52% annually. Crude oil prices in December averaged over 50% higher than a year before; however, they also retreated in the last month of the year, down -2.6% month-over-month. Some may point to the softness in energy CPI and commodities in December is a sign that shortages in the industry are easing, but there is still a long way down. Omicron has also complicated things and delayed any resolution here.
Vehicles were hard to find in 2021 due to a semiconductor shortage that led to a massive decline in car and truck production. Transport exports and inventories suffered in just about every country's economic reporting. In the US, monthly auto production reached its 3rd lowest point of all time in September at 84,300 units (only above April and May 2020 production) and was reported at 126,000 in November, more than -42% below its pre-pandemic level.
Since there is still a massive deficit in auto production, prices are still rising. The earliest gains in transportation commodities (less fuel) prices were bulky with monthly gains of 4.3%, 4.0%, and 5.6% from April to June driven by sharp gains in used car prices. The elevated used car prices bled over into other indexes, and 4/6 of the base indexes that make up the transportation commodities were up over 10% annually. The other two are up over 9% annually. There has yet to be a resolution to the surge in vehicle prices, but semiconductor companies have indicated that increased capacity should be here in 2022. Until then, prices could keep rising.
These categories were to blame for the initial CPI surge. The breadth in price growth wasn't really there over the summer of 2021 and lead to many (including the Fed) to believe that inflation would be largely transitory and could even be trending normally by the end of 2021. The opposite has happened. Supply disruptions leading to price increases spilled over into other industries and other subindexes of the CPI. Looking at the 210 base indexes that are reported in the CPI, an increasing amount surged past annual gains of 5% and 10%. In December, there were 95 indexes above 5% and 33 above 10%, both higher than any other month in 2021.
With the many increases over those 5% and 10% thresholds that came across different indexes, there weren't a comparable amount of decreases below those thresholds. Net increases minus decreases over those thresholds were positive in every month in 2021 except for September. Inflation is not cooling, and we enter 2022 with no clear signs that it should in Q2 2021.
The implications for the Federal Reserve are urgent. The resounding 7% at the end of 2021 means that they missed on their inflation forecasts. The latest median projections that the Fed made in December have the FOMC voting for 3 rate hikes in 2022 after tapering finishes in Q1 2022. If Chair Powell and members want to maintain credibility in the face of inflation, it seems that they will have to have a more hawkish response. Normalization at the speed of 4 or more rate hikes in a year would surely be aggressive in the current policy environment, but unusual inflation may well call for unusual policy.