U.S. consumer prices continued to climb swiftly in June, as the economic recovery gained steam and demand outpaced the supply of labor and materials.
The Labor Department said last month’s consumer-price index increased 5.4% from a year ago, the highest 12-month rate since August 2008. The so-called core price index, which excludes the often-volatile categories of food and energy, rose 4.5% from a year before.
The index measures what consumers pay for goods and services, including clothes, groceries, restaurant meals, recreational activities and vehicles. It increased a seasonally adjusted 0.9% in June from May, the largest one-month change since June 2008. Prices for used cars and trucks leapt 10.5% from the previous month, driving one-third of the rise in the overall index, the department said. The indexes for airline fares and apparel also rose sharply in June.
Consumers are seeing prices rise for numerous reasons, as the U.S. economic recovery picks up. Richard F. Moody, chief economist at Regions Financial Corp., said the main driver of June inflation was booming demand that outpaced the ability of businesses to keep up. Another factor, he said, was the recovery in prices for air travel, hotels, rental cars, entertainment and recreation—all services hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Demand is coming back very rapidly, and businesses are normalizing prices in the sense that they are making up for declines” earlier in the pandemic, he said.
Supply shortages and higher shipping costs also continue to drive rapid increases in goods inflation. Prices of goods, excluding food and energy, saw the two biggest monthly increases on record in April and May, Mr. Moody said.
Rising prices reflect robust consumer demand boosted by widespread vaccinations, the ending of many business restrictions, trillions of dollars in federal pandemic relief and ample household savings. Stronger demand also has pushed employers to seek more workers and pay higher wages, as they struggle to hire.
The U.S. inflation rate reached a 13-year high recently, triggering a debate about whether the country is entering an inflationary period similar to the 1970s. WSJ’s Jon Hilsenrath looks at what consumers can expect next.
The Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition
U.S. gross domestic product rose 6.4% at a seasonally adjusted annual rate in the first quarter. Economists surveyed by the Journal in July expect the Commerce Department to report that the economy grew at a 9.1% annual rate in the second quarter—poised for the GDP’s best year since the early 1980s.
Annual inflation measurements are being amplified by comparisons with figures from last year during Covid-19 lockdowns, when prices plummeted because of collapsing demand for many goods and services. This so-called base effect is expected to push up inflation readings in June, dwindling into the fall.
Compared with two years ago, overall prices rose 3% in June. Overall prices jumped at a 10.7% annualized rate in the three months ended in June, faster than the 9.7% pace in May.
More companies are passing on higher labor and materials costs to consumers. Many also are raising prices for the first time in years, as demand surges following pandemic-related business restrictions.
Ryan L. Sumner and Michelle Fox of Fenix Fotography LLC in Charlotte have been operating at maximum capacity for several months shooting photographic portraits for people looking for new jobs, working remotely and starting new businesses. Mr. Sumner said they raised prices in February by about 20% and last week by nearly 17%—the first price increases in about 15 years.
The first increase didn’t put a dent in their business—or alleviate burnout that the couple was experiencing because of unrelenting demand. They are interviewing to add a second photographer. “One of the things we’re looking at is limiting availability…because it’s been a lot for a small firm to handle. Where we’re at is, we either have to raise prices or add staff—or both,” Mr. Sumner said.
Policy makers are watching June’s reading to gauge the magnitude of what many expect to be several months of robust inflation after a year of anemic price pressures during the peak of the pandemic. Whether the inflation surge is temporary is a key question for the U.S. economy and financial markets—and the Federal Reserve’s easy-money policies aimed at helping the economy through the pandemic.
The Fed, in a report released Friday, reiterated its view that inflation has risen because of bottlenecks, hiring difficulties and other “largely transitory factors” related to the economy’s rebound from the pandemic. Most officials, in projections released last month, believe inflation will decline to around 2% over the next two years. Still, a sustained, large increase in inflation could compel the Fed to tighten its policies earlier than planned—or to react more aggressively later—to achieve its 2% average inflation goal.
Many economists now expect higher inflation to stick around while slowly easing. Those surveyed by the Journal in July estimate on average that annual inflation, measured by the CPI, will ease to 4.1% in December. Annual inflation for 2019—ahead of the pandemic’s start in March 2020—was 1.8%, on average.
Some 47% of small businesses indicated that they raised average selling prices in May, the highest share since 1981, according to a survey conducted by the National Federation of Independent Business, a trade association.
Many consumers are willing to pay higher prices than they might normally be after spending more than a year cooped up at home, said
chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics.
“Right now what you have, especially among people who didn’t lose their jobs and get to go on vacation, is, ‘My tolerance is a little higher right now,’” she said.
73, of The Villages, Florida, has been conscious of rising prices for food, rent, gasoline, auto insurance, healthcare and travel. He said that he and his wife, Sandy, have been going out to dinner less in part because of higher prices and because they are increasingly anxious about the Delta variant of the coronavirus.
The couple encountered significantly higher food prices at the local cinema while attending the film “Cruella.”
“A hot dog at the movies was $7,” he said, adding that before the pandemic he paid about $4. Mr. Bodenstein opted to pass on the hot dog and other concession foods. “All the prices were through the roof,” he said. “You just say, ‘Forget about it.’”
Write to Gwynn Guilford at email@example.com
Corrections & Amplifications
The consumer-price index increased a seasonally adjusted 0.9% in June from May, the largest one-month change since June 2008. An earlier version of this article incorrectly said the index rose a seasonally adjusted 1%. (Corrected on July 13, 2021)
China's Economy Improves in June From Lockdown-Induced Slump – BNN
(Bloomberg) — China’s economy showed some improvement in June as Covid restrictions were gradually eased, although the recovery remains muted.
That’s the outlook based on Bloomberg’s aggregate index of eight early indicators for this month. The overall gauge returned to the neutral level after deteriorating for two straight months.
Economic activity picked up in June after financial hub Shanghai lifted its lockdown, allowing businesses to restart and most residents to leave their homes. That can be seen in a rebound in small business confidence, which started growing again after contracting for two months.
A survey of more than 500 smaller firms showed that “demand and production recovered strongly among manufacturing,” and export-oriented smaller firms outperformed, according to Hunter Chan and Ding Shuang, economists at Standard Chartered Plc.
However, “the manufacturing recovery was more significant than services,” they said. Contact-intensive industries such as retail and catering continued to be a drag, while real estate, transport and information technology reported an acceleration in activity and construction jumped.
Rising activity isn’t translating into higher demand for some building materials yet. More steel plants have been idled and inventory levels at major Chinese steel mills have climbed 10.7% in mid-June from earlier in the month, and are about 82% higher than the start of this year. Stocks of steel rebar, which is used in construction, rose slightly in June.
Beijing has pledged to boost policy measures to support growth, with President Xi Jinping saying last week China would strive to meet its goals for the year. Stocks were up for a fourth week on optimism of stimulus and as lockdowns ended, with foreign inflows rising.
However, the housing sector continued to be a drag on the economy. Property sales declined in the first three weeks of June in the top four cities in China, even though sales in Shanghai last week had mostly recovered to the level before the lockdown.
An official index that tracks apartment and home sales has now declined for 11 straight months — a record since China created a private property market in the 1990s. The slump likely continued into June, with weekly sales in the top 50 cities contracting from the level last year.
Read more: China’s Property Slump Is a Bigger Threat Than Its Lockdowns
The car market is making a gradually recovery after the lockdowns. Based on sales in the first two weeks of this month, more cars were sold in June than the same period in 2021. Sales fell in the past three months as Covid restrictions caused car plants and dealerships to shut and also prevented people across the country from leaving their homes to go shopping.
Total retail sales also dropped in that period, with the economies of Beijing and Shanghai the worst hit.
The recovery in the services industry will likely take longer than for goods. Consumers are still unwilling or unable to go out as much as before since China’s strict Covid Zero policy means they face being quarantined for weeks if they’ve been in the same location as a positive case.
The restrictions and factory closures of the past months have also curbed the incomes of many businesses and workers, even if they weren’t locked down.
Read more: Even Without a Lockdown, Beijing’s Economy Struggled in May
The export sector likely supported demand in June, as companies ramped up shipments that had been delayed and ports worked to clear the backlog of containers. Although South Korean exports in the first 20 days of the month fell for the first time in more than a year, that was largely because of fewer working days this year than last.
The daily average value of Korean shipments rose 11% in the period from the same time in 2021. Exports have been a strong driver for China’s economy and the strong growth continues to defy predictions that they would slow markedly or start to fall.
Read more: Metals Haven’t Crashed This Hard Since the Great Recession
The outlook for those shipments in the rest of this year depends on whether rising concerns about a global recession are correct or not. The price of copper had its steepest weekly loss in a year last week as global recession fears mounted, damping the outlook for demand and battering commodities from oil to metals. The metal used in wires and cables extended its weekly loss to 7%, with prices hitting the lowest level since February last year following disappointing US business activity data that included an abrupt cooling in manufacturing.
Bloomberg Economics generates the overall activity reading by aggregating a three-month weighted average of the monthly changes of eight indicators, which are based on business surveys or market prices.
- Major onshore stocks – CSI 300 index of A-share stocks listed in Shanghai or Shenzhen (through market close on 25th of the month).
- Total floor area of home sales in China’s four Tier-1 cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen).
- Inventory of steel rebar, used for reinforcing in construction (in 10,000 metric tons). Falling inventory is a sign of rising demand.
- Copper prices – Spot price for refined copper in Shanghai market (yuan/metric ton).
- South Korean exports – South Korean exports in the first 20 days of each month (year-on-year change).
- Factory inflation tracker – Bloomberg Economics-created tracker for Chinese producer prices (year-on-year change).
- Small and medium-sized business confidence – Survey of companies conducted by Standard Chartered.
- Passenger car sales – Monthly result calculated from the weekly average sales data released by the China Passenger Car Association.
©2022 Bloomberg L.P.
BIS warns economies are approaching 'tipping point' where high inflation becomes entrenched – The Globe and Mail
Many economies are approaching a tipping point where high inflation becomes normal while economic growth slows sharply, the Bank for International Settlements warned in its annual report published Sunday.
Countries around the world are facing a dangerous cocktail of high inflation, slowing economic growth and heightened financial vulnerabilities tied to high debt levels and rising interest rates, said the BIS, which acts as a bank for the world’s central banks.
This may quickly turn into a period of stagflation resembling the high-inflation and low-growth era of 1970s and early 1980s, the organization said. It argued that economic policy makers around the world need to move rapidly to halt inflation, even if that means causing significant economic hardship.
“We may be reaching a tipping point, beyond which an inflationary psychology spreads and becomes entrenched. This would mean a major paradigm shift,” the BIS said.
Central banks around the world have stepped up the pace of interest rate increases in recent months to try to tame inflation. Two weeks ago, the U.S. Federal Reserve announced the largest interest rate hike since 1994. The Bank of Canada has increased its benchmark rate at three consecutive rate decisions, and hinted that it is considering a supersized 0.75 percentage point rate increase in July. That would be three times the size of a normal rate hike.
Interest rate increases lower demand in the economy, which can help bring down the pace of consumer price growth. But higher interest rates can also push the economy into a recession, as steeper borrowing costs curtail consumer spending and business investment, and push up unemployment.
“The overriding near-term challenge is to prevent the global economy from shifting from a low- to a high-inflation regime. In doing so, policy makers will need to limit the costs to the economy as far as possible and to safeguard financial stability. Some pain, however, will be inevitable,” the BIS said.
Getting inflation under control won’t be easy, the organization warned. The recent commodity price shock tied to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has added to multiple inflationary pressures that have been building over the past year. This resembles the oil price shocks in the 1970s that pushed the United States, Canada and other countries into a period of high inflation, high unemployment and low economic growth known as stagflation.
The situation today, however, could be even more dangerous than in earlier periods of stagflation because of the amount of debt – particularly housing market debt – that has built up over more than a decade of ultra-low interest rates, the BIS warned. It called the current combination of soaring inflation and elevated financial vulnerabilities “historically unprecedented.”
“Unlike in the past, stagflation today would occur alongside heightened financial vulnerabilities, including stretched asset prices and high debt levels, which could magnify any growth slowdown,” it said.
As they push interest rates higher, central banks are trying to engineer a soft landing – a situation where inflation comes down without a sharp slowdown in economic activity or significant rise in unemployment. Top central bankers, including Fed chair Jerome Powell and Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem, have said in recent weeks they believe a soft landing is possible, although they acknowledge that it is getting more difficult.
The BIS poured cold water on the probability of a soft landing in its report. BIS economists looked at monetary policy tightening cycles in 35 countries between 1985 and 2018, and concluded that about half of them resulted in a soft landing – that is, did not end in a recession.
However, further analysis showed that recessions were more likely if rate hikes followed a period of ultralow borrowing costs and a build-up of financial vulnerabilities. That is the situation Canada and many other advanced economies are in today.
“A hard landing may not be foreordained,” Columbia University professor Adam Tooze wrote in a newsletter commenting on the BIS report. “But what the BIS is telling us, is that central bankers have never attempted to stop an inflation as rapid as the one we have seen in the first half of 2022, with the level of debt build-up we have seen since the early 2000s.”
The BIS is not alone in its grim prognosis. Earlier this month, the World Bank cut its 2022 global growth forecast to 2.9 per cent from a 4.1-per-cent forecast in January, and said that “the danger of stagflation is considerable today.”
Much of the BIS report focused on the changing dynamics of inflation, which is surging across large parts of the globe for the first time in decades. The annual rate of inflation hit a 39-year-high of 7.7 per cent in May in Canada, the highest since 1983. It averaged 9.2 per cent in April across countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
The BIS noted that once economies shift into periods of high inflation, consumer price increases become self-reinforcing. Businesses and consumers start paying more attention to rising prices and start behaving differently, respectively setting higher prices and demanding higher wages to protect their margins and purchasing power.
“Whether inflation becomes entrenched or not ultimately depends on whether wage-price spirals will develop. The risk should not be underestimated, owing to the inherent dynamics of transitions from low- to high-inflation regimes,” the BIS said.
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India's Economy Shows Spark on Pent-Up Demand After Reopenings – BNN
(Bloomberg) — India’s economy gathered momentum in May driven by pent up demand for services and higher output from industries as reopening continued from pandemic restrictions.
Five of the eight high-frequency indicators compiled by Bloomberg News showed improvement, pushing the needle on a dial measuring so-called ‘Animal Spirits’ to 6, from 5, for the first time since July and the first upward move in more than a year. The gauge is based on the three-month weighted average scores to smoothen out volatility in the single-month readings.
The upturn was fueled by an expansion in services activity and a robust growth in core infrastructure industries. However, an unprecedented rise in input prices, due in part to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and persistent demand-supply imbalances, may spoil sentiment going forward.
Higher food, fuel, labor and transportation costs are forcing central banks globally to prioritize price stability over growth. The Reserve Bank of India has raised borrowing costs by 90 basis points so far this year and vows to do more to bring price gains below its target ceiling of 6%.
Erratic weather and an uptick in virus cases risks also impeding the recovery. The number of daily virus cases increased about sixfold in the last one month.
Below are details of the dashboard. (For an alternative gauge of growth trends, follow Bloomberg Economics’ monthly GDP tracker — a weighted index of 11 indicators.)
Purchasing managers’ surveys showed activity in India’s dominant services sector in May rose to the highest level in eleven years, while momentum in the manufacturing sector remained steady. That helped pull the S&P Global India Composite PMI to the 10th consecutive month of expansion.
Inflation expectations, though, continued to weigh on business confidence as input costs climbed to a new record, the survey showed. Companies will continue to transfer mounting costs to consumers going ahead, which could keep inflation elevated.
India’s trade deficit widened to an all-time high of $24.33 billion in May due to higher gold and petroleum imports. Official data showed that surging commodity prices kept merchandise imports above $60 billion for the third month in a row, while exports growth slowed due to geopolitical uncertainties.
India’s automobile sector saw another month of decline in May, but the extent of fall was smaller as some segments such as car and two-wheeler sales showed a pick-up from a month ago.
In other signs of consumer activity, bank credit grew 12.1% at the end of May, from 11.1% in April. Liquidity conditions also remained in surplus.
Two other key indicators of industrial activity, which are published with a one-month lag, showed robust growth in April. Factory output growth rose to a eight-month high of 7.1% from a year ago, led by a double-digit increase in electricity production, while manufacturing and mining also expanded at a healthy pace. A similar trend was seen in the output growth of eight infrastructure industries, which increased to 8.4% from 4.9% in March.
©2022 Bloomberg L.P.
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