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  The Consumer Price Index (CPI) Was Unchanged in July
Posted Under: CPI • Data Watch • Government • Inflation • Fed Reserve • Interest Rates • Spending • COVID-19
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Implications:  Is the inflation scare over?  Not by a long shot.  Today’s downside surprise to July consumer prices was the mirror-image of June’s surprise to the upside, both of which were driven by the volatile energy sector.  Consumer prices were unchanged in July, muted by a 4.6% decline in energy, which followed a 7.5% energy price spike in June.  Excluding energy, consumer prices were up 0.4% in July.  The decline in energy prices for the month drove the year-ago comparison for the headline index down to 8.5% (versus 9.1% in June).  When you look at inflation on a year-ago comparison basis, it probably peaked back in June at 9.1%, but that doesn’t mean inflation is no longer a major problem.  In the past two months –  taking the surge in June as well as the unchanged overall price level in July – consumer prices are up at an 8.1% annual rate.  That is no different than the 8.1% annualized increase in April and May, before the spike and then decline in energy prices.  Looking at the details of today’s report, food prices – the other typically volatile category – was a different story from energy,  posting its seventh consecutive monthly gain of at least 0.9%, on the back of higher costs for all six major grocery-store food groups.  Stripping out food and energy, “core” prices rose 0.3% in July, leaving the year-ago comparison unchanged at 5.9%.  Digging into the core data shows persistent inflation pressures that were partially offset by a string of smaller category declines.  Housing rents (for both actual tenants and the rental value of owner-occupied homes) continued to increase at an outsized pace in July, rising 0.6%.  Notably, in the past two months, rental prices for actual tenants have posted the two largest monthly increases since 1987.  Rents have been a key driver for inflation in 2022, and should continue to do so in 2023-24 because they make up more than 30% of the overall CPI and still have a long way to go to catch up to home prices, which skyrocketed during COVID.  Other core categories to increase in July were prices for motor vehicle insurance (+1.3%), new vehicles (+0.6%), and hospital services (+0.5%).  Meanwhile, several categories that have risen sharply in prior months cooled in July, including prices for airline fares (-7.8%), hotels (-3.2%), and used vehicles (-0.4%).  The best news in today’s report was real earnings increasing 0.5%, its first monthly increase in ten months.  But take this with a grain of salt, as real earnings are down 3.0% in the last year, and we expect them, at very best, to remain roughly flat in the year ahead. Since February 2020 (pre-COVID), consumer prices are up at a 5.6% annual rate and core prices are up at a 4.2% rate.  How did we get here?  By forcing an economy to shutdown while simultaneously injecting an unprecedented amount of fiscal and monetary stimulus.  Inflation has been – and always is – a monetary phenomenon.  To get inflation back down to 2.0%, the Fed needs to focus less on hiking interest rates and more on getting the growth in the money supply under consistent control.

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Posted on Wednesday, August 10, 2022 @ 11:14 AM • Post Link Share: 
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