Inflation is proving to be far more tenacious than markets had hoped.
The idea that inflation peaked in March was put to rest last week when the Consumer Price Index (CPI) showed that inflation accelerated in May. Overall, prices were up 8.6 percent last month, an increase from April’s 8.3 percent. It was the highest inflation reading we’ve seen since December 1981.
The most significant price increases were in energy (+34.6%) and food (+10.1%). That’s unfortunate because the War in Ukraine has a significant influence on food and energy prices right now, and no one knows how long it will last. In April, the World Bank’s Commodity Markets Outlook reported:
“The war in Ukraine has been a major shock to global commodity markets. The supply of several commodities has been disrupted, leading to sharply higher prices, particularly for energy [natural gas, coal, crude oil], fertilizers, and some grains [wheat, barley, and corn].”
With inflation rising, the Federal Reserve will continue to aggressively raise the federal funds rate. There is a 50-50 chance the Fed will raise rates by 0.75 percent in July (rather than 0.50 percent), and some economists say there could be a 0.75% hike this week when the Fed meets, reported Scott Lanman and Kristin Aquino of Bloomberg.
The inflation news unsettled already volatile stock and bond markets. Major U.S. stock indices declined last week as investors reassessed the potential impact of higher interest rates and inflation on company earnings and share prices, reported Randall W. Forsyth of Barron’s. The Treasury yield curve flattened a bit as the yield on two-year Treasuries rose to a multi-year high, reported Jacob Sonenshine and Jack Denton of Barron’s. The benchmark 10-year Treasury Note finished the week yielding more than 3 percent.
There was a hint of good news in the report. The core CPI, which excludes food and energy prices because they are volatile and can distort pricing trends, is trending lower. It dropped from 6.5 percent in March to 6.2 percent in April and 6.0 percent in May.
The Federal Reserve’s favored inflation gauge is the Personal Consumption Price (PCE) Index, which will be released on June 30.