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This morning the Labor Department reported U.S. consumer inflation figures that investors, after an initial burst of enthusiasm, now (as of mid-day trading) seem to recognize as pretty disappointing.

For when it comes to the new April results for the Consumer Price Index (CPI), there isn’t even any need to use baseline analysis – which adds crucial context to the annual numbers – to identify significant reasons for pessimism. That’s because both measures showed monthly acceleration.

Headline CPI rose in April sequentially by 0.37 percent. The rate of increase quickened for the first time in three months, and the difference between it as March’s 0.05 percent (the best such figure since last July’s 0.03 percent dip) was the greatest in absolTute terms since the 0.52 percentage point jump between last April and May.

Core CPI strips out food and energy prices because they’re volatile supposedly for reasons having little to do with the economy’s overall prone-ness to inflation. In April, it didn’t speed up over March’s pace as much as headline inflation, but it still resumed climbing faster after slowing down for the first time in four months. Plus, the 0.41 percent sequential rise was one of the higher rates lately.

The story for April’s annual CPI increases was better, but just marginally so. And using baseline analysis (which entails comparing back-to-back annual increases in order to determine whether inflation is genuinely gaining or losing momentum over these longer periods) barely brightens the picture.

April’s slowing annual headline CPI was the tenth straight, and brought the rate to 4.96 percent – it’s lowest since May, 2021’s 4.92 percent. The sequential improvement over March’s 4.99 percent annual increase was pretty skimpy, though.

And now for the baseline analyis. Both the March and April, 2021-22 annual CPI increases were well north of a torrid eight percent. So businesses feeling free to raise prices another nearly five percent on top of that indicates continued real confidence in their pricing power.

That’s especially apparent upon realizing that the baseline figure for May, 2021’s 4.92 percent annual inflation was just 0.23 percent – because it stemmed from early in during the devastating first wave of the CCP Virus pandemic, when the economy was still such deep trouble and consumer demand so weak that businesses on average had almost no pricing power.

It’s also discouraging that between this March and April, annual CPI fell less (0.03 percentage points) than it fell between last March and April (0.28 percentage points). If businesses were losing significant pricing power between last spring and this spring, we’d have been the opposite results.

No baseline analysis is needed to show how unexciting the new annual core inflation figure is. At 5.60 percent in April, it was (a bit) lower than March’s 5.60 percent. But with January and February having come in at 5.55 percent and 5.53 percent, it’s plainly stayed in the same neighborhood so far all of 2023.

As has been the case in recent months, the future of U.S. consumer inflation is still going to be determined by a free-for-all among:

>the Federal Reserve’s determination to force inflation down further, and even risk of recession, by growth-slowing monetary policy moves;

>the ongoing growth impact of Fed measures already taken;

>the countervailing effect of more cautious bank lending resulting from the turmoil in the ranks of small and mid-sized institutions;  

>the economic strength that can be expected from the amount of fuel available for consumer spending (despite higher borrowing costs) that’s coming from very high employment levels, and from remaining CCP Virus stimulus funds in households’ bank accounts; 

>major, stimulative government spending that’s starting to flow in to the economy from the impressive legislative victories won by President Biden on infrastructure, green manufacturing, and semiconductors; and

>the powerful temptation politicians facing reelection tend to feel to keep voters happy with yet more spending, or tax cuts, or some combination of both.

I’m still betting that the inflation-boosting forces win out, and that we’ll get some more evidence tomorrow when the Labor Department releases data on the prices businesses charge each other to supply their customers (the Producer Price Index or PPI). And that’s even though those monthly numbers are telling us that consumer inflation may not even be cooling anymore.