Apr 12, 2022 - Economy & Business

How prices might change the rest of the year

Data: BLS; Chart: Baidi Wang/Axios

The hunt is on for clues that inflation has peaked. Trouble is — the clues point to a jumble of entangled economic factors.

State of play: Prices for everything — electricity, cereal, airline tickets — rose 8.5% last month from a year ago, according to the Consumer Price Index for March, which was released today.

  • Stripped of volatile food and energy prices, yearly core inflation reached 6.5%.

How we got here: Three rounds of stimulus checks that helped fuel historic consumer demand, while companies struggled with a shortage of workers to meet it during the pandemic.

  • Ensuing supply chain breakdowns and higher costs to get around them added fuel to the fire, while Russia's war on Ukraine disrupted energy supplies.

Why it matters: Prices are rising unevenly, depending on how companies have responded to the tangled mess. Some things like cars may stabilize while daily essentials like food could continue to see higher price tags until more of the mess gets resolved.

By the numbers: Gasoline, shelter and food prices were the largest contributors to the overall rise in CPI (see the following chart).

  • Monthly core inflation, stripped of food and energy prices, slowed for the second month in a row — from 0.5% (from January to February), to 0.3% (from February to March).
  • Housing costs rose 5% from last year, while growing at a 0.5% monthly rate.

What to watch: Oil prices have been easing and average gas prices fell for the third straight week in the first full week of April, according to GasBuddy, as gas stations are forced to compete.

  • On the other hand, with housing prices continuing to skyrocket, shelter prices will likely continue to grow at an elevated pace.
  • Food prices, which have picked up faster, will likely continue to grow for the rest of the year as companies pass on their own higher costs due to labor shortages and transportation and logistics issues.
  • New and used car prices could level off, rather than drop, as declining consumer demand and historically low inventories keep each other in check.

The big picture: "[E]levated inflation will slow consumption, it will slow the economy and it ultimately will impact the employment/hiring dynamic in this country," Rick Rieder, BlackRock’s Chief Investment Officer of Global Fixed Income, wrote in a note today.

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