The U.S. Federal Reserve has had a 2.0% to 2.5% target range on inflation for years now. Unfortunately, that target has been rather elusive until recently. Now, almost all of a sudden, after strong economic growth, inflation may finally be pushing the limits.
The Department of Labor has released its Producer Price Index (PPI) for final demand, measuring wholesale inflation, in the month of October. The headline gain was up 0.4% for wholesale prices, higher than the 0.1% gain expected by Bloomberg and matching the same gain in September.
Core wholesale inflation, excluding food and energy, rose by 0.4% as well. Bloomberg was calling for a gain of only 0.2% on the monthly reading, and September’s number was a gain of 0.4% as well.
These small gains on the monthly readings might not sound all that robust, but the Federal Reserve looks at the annualized inflation readings for its real targets. Headline PPI rose by 2.8% from October of 2016, and core PPI rose by 2.4%. Even if you back out energy and trade services, the deeper annualized core inflation was up 2.3%.
It may be too soon to say that wholesale inflation will turn into consumer inflation on Wednesday’s Consumer Price index (CPI) reading for October. The reality is that wholesale prices have to remain hot sometimes for three or four months before it shows up as a higher consumer prices paid by you and me.
There are some primary reasons it takes a while for wholesale inflation to work its way down to the consumer. One reason is that it simply takes a while for higher wholesale prices to make their way into new consumer sales, particularly if businesses already had ample to high inventory levels based on lower prices. Then there is the notion that those inventories have to be worked off before the higher prices get passed down to consumers. And perhaps the biggest issue is that it just takes businesses a while of absorbing higher costs to be able to tell consumers that their prices are going up.
Many consumers wonder why inflation is a good thing. After all, who wants to pay higher prices and see their purchasing power erode? The common theme is that deflation must be avoided at all costs. There is a saying about it: Most of us don’t know what deflation looks like, but you won’t like it at all once you see it.