Apr 10, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Biden's bad news on inflation

This is Joe Biden

President Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida return to the Oval Office following a joint press conference in the Rose Garden. Photo: Andrew Harnik/Getty Images

Last week, President Biden got the jobs report he wanted. Today, he got the inflation numbers he didn't.

Why it matters: Inflation is rearing its ugly head again and it's a nightmare for Biden on several fronts.

  • Stubbornly high prices undercut his argument that the economy is much better than many Americans are willing to admit — or at least tell pollsters.
  • It also means that Fed Chair Jerome Powell is likely to wait for more data before starting to lower interest rates. A June cut — which forecasters had been expecting — appears less likely.
  • For voters, that will translate into higher borrowing costs for longer — and closer to Election Day.

Driving the news: The Consumer Price Index rose 0.4% in March, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Wednesday, coming in hotter than expected.

  • Perhaps more troubling for the White House: the core measure — which excludes food and energy prices — rose at an annualized pace of 4.5% in the last three months. That suggests the inflation isn't just high. It's also stubborn.
  • Financial markets staged their own little protest, with a selloff in the bond and equities market.

What they are saying: The CPI numbers forced Biden to acknowledge that the Fed isn't likely to cut rates at its next meeting.

  • "This may delay it a month or so, I'm not sure of that. We don't know what the Fed is going to do for certain," Biden said, when he was asked about it during his press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida
  • He reaffirmed his prediction, made last month, that the Fed will cut rates before the end of the year.
  • "Look, we have dramatically reduced inflation from 9% down to close to 3%," he said. "We're better situated than where we were when we took office, where inflation was skyrocketing."

Reality check: The annual inflation rate was 1.4% when Biden took office in January of 2021, according to BLS.

The intrigue: Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, a persistent Biden critic on inflation, raised the possibility that the Fed might be forced to increase interest rates in June.

The bottom line: The CPI number wasn't good news for the White House, but it's just one monthly report.

  • As readers of Axios Macro know, the Fed actually looks more closely as a separate inflation gauge — the Personal Consumption Expenditures price index, or PCE, which is out later this month — when it makes its interest rate decisions.
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