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After today’s official report on producer price inflation in the United States, it’s hard to see how anyone could still genuinely believe that the worst of the recent, decades-high price increases afflicting Americans is past.

In the first place, both versions of the Producer Price Index (PPI) worsened sequentially in September) for the second straight month. And in the second place, these results are likely to generate acceleration in consumer prices (those September figures come out tomorrow) because these “final demand” producer price (also called wholesale price) numbers tell us what businesses charge for the goods and services they buy to create what they sell to consumers.

It’s true that, at some point, U.S. businesses will lose this pricing power because their customers simply can’t afford to keep buying as much. But continuing strong inflation at all levels by definition makes clear that this development isn’t imminent. (Otherwise, price increases would have cooled much faster.)

Moreover, the Federal Reserve’s tighter monetary policy, which makes credit more expensive, isn’t likely for at least several months to slow economic activity enough to moderate inflation. And the Biden administration keeps putting more money in people’s pockets (e.g., in the form of a – scaled back – student loan forgiveness program, a major expansion of food stamp eligibility and Obamacare benefits, and higher spending on veterans benefits). Further, tomorrow Washington could announce the biggest increase in Social Security payments (which are indexed to inflation) in decades.

Overall producer prices rose sequentially by 0.38 percent in September. The monthly increase was the first since June, but keep in mind that it followed a July drop of 0.41 percent and a smaller August decline of 0.18 percent (hence my claim above of two consecutive months of discouraging results).

As with the consumer price index (CPI), the government also releases “core” producer price figures that strip out food and energy prices supposedly because their volatility has nothing to with the economy’s fundamental vulnerability to inflation. And quickening inflation was apparent here, too, with September’s monthly increase of 0.36 percent following an August rise of 0.25 percent and a July bump up of 0.13 percent.

The headline year-on-year PPI increase looked a little better – but only if you forget the baseline effect, which can produce misleadingly high or low results if the preceding year’s readings (in this case) were abnormal in either direction.

The September annual rise of 8.55 percent represented the third straight month of deceleration, and the lowest such number since July, 2021’s 7.83 percent.

But it’s coming off an annual increase the previous September of 8.82 percent. By contrast, this year’s highest annual PPI increase (March’s 11.67 percent number) came off a yearly rise of only 4.06 percent the previous March. That’s less than half as high. Therefore, it’s entirely reasonable to see plenty of still worrisome producer price momentum in that most recent annual data.

As for core PPI, September actually saw an acceleration in the annual pace – from August’s 5.60 percent to 5.66 percent. And although the latest figure is still the year’s second lowest, it’s coming off a September, 2020-21 increase of 6.17 percent. The highest annual PPI result for this year (March’s 7.11 percent), that increase followed one between the previous March’s of a mere 3.15 percent – roughly only half as high.

Between these new wholesale price results and the rapid consumer prices increases revealed in last month’s official report on the consumer inflation measure preferred by the Fed, the case for peak inflation looks weaker than it has for months. And here’s one more reason for doubting that the cost of living crisis will abate much any time soon:  the unlikelihood, at least as I see it, that the Fed will keep tightening monetary policy much longer and risk being charged with throwing the economy into a recession with a presidential election coming up.

Of course, the central bank is supposed to be immune from political pressures (including public opinion). But of course, nothing in Washington is. I’ve actually been surprised that the Fed has persisted in its hawkish stance this long. But the real test of its convictions is still months away.       

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