A worker on an auto assembly line in Smyrna, Tennessee.
Luke Sharrett / Bloomberg / Getty Images
Concentrating price pressures in a handful of categories means markets shouldn’t be concerned about inflation after Wednesday’s US surprise, economists told CNBC.
The U.S. consumer price index for April rose 4.2% year-over-year, the sharpest increase since 2008, while the monthly rise in core inflation excluding volatile food and energy prices was the fastest since 1981.
The readings sparked significant sell-offs in global equity markets as investors feared the rise in inflation could cause the Federal Reserve to change its accommodative stance.
Used car and truck prices, viewed as a key inflation indicator, rose 21%, including a 10% increase in April alone. Airlines and accommodations were also heavily represented due to the sudden surge in demand due to the lifting of travel restrictions.
The automotive industry was hampered this year by a global shortage of semiconductors, which caused major automakers to cut production. Nissan was the last to announce on Thursday that it would produce half a million fewer cars in 2021 due to the shortage. The rise in the price of used cars has been attributed to the effects of this crisis.
“It’s not inflation, but it’s a legitimate supply problem, and any new car that doesn’t sell is a used car that wasn’t made, “said Carl Weinberg, chief economist at High Frequency Economics.
“At the same time, the rental agencies are jumping into the used car market because they can’t get new cars either. So we have a shift in demand right and up and at the same time a shift in supply left and that’s causing prices to go up,” he added, noting, that this is not inflation.
Weinberg also noted, in line with the position of many Fed officials, that the sudden shift from total service shutdowns to a more even distribution of price pressures on the economy would ultimately stabilize inflation.
“We see temporary shocks, bottlenecks on the way when we get back up to speed, and everything will eventually settle down,” he added.
Marco Valli, head of macro research and chief economist for Europe at UniCredit, also told CNBC that the Italian lender believes the rise in inflation is temporary, but admitted that Wednesday’s numbers had created “a little less confidence” in the forecast.
Noting the concentration of price pressures in categories directly affected by supply problems in the auto industry or the reopening of the service sector, Valli suggested that the Fed needs to see much broader and more sustainable inflation. However, he forecast that the current robust price growth is likely to continue for several months.
“The risk has increased, but we also think it’s temporary. To understand where this will really matter to the Fed, you really have to look at the breadth of the categories of price hikes you see,” Valli said .
Further data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics on Thursday showed that the producer price index (PPI) was up 6.2% year over year in April. This is the largest increase since the agency began collecting data in 2010.
The inflation spurt is the “least bad outcome” for the Fed
Fed officials have repeatedly suggested that inflation must rise in addition to employment in a substantial and sustained manner before policy changes.
Weinberg suggested that the employment rate is indeed the central bank’s priority, with above-the-line inflation a price it would be willing to pay.
“Is the problem inflation, is it the biggest risk right now, or is the problem persistent unemployment that could force the government to subsidize people’s incomes for an unaffordable period of time or cause it to crash?” He added that this is the scenario that the Fed wants most to avoid.
“So taking some risk of inflation may not be the best possible outcome, but it’s certainly the least bad outcome, rather than the risk of prolonged runaway unemployment.”