Up, up, and away: Consumer-price index inflation now at 7.9%

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

And the annualized number may be even worse. The latest report on the consumer-price index shows inflation hit another 40-year high in February, with a year-on-year increase of 7.9%. The actual amount of inflation last month would hit almost double digits if annualized on its own, however:

The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) increased 0.8 percent in February on a seasonally adjusted basis after rising 0.6 percent in January, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Over the last 12 months, the all items index increased 7.9 percent before seasonal adjustment.

Increases in the indexes for gasoline, shelter, and food were the largest contributors to the seasonally adjusted all items increase. The gasoline index rose 6.6 percent in February and accounted for almost a third of the all items monthly increase; other energy component indexes were mixed. The food index rose 1.0 percent as the food at home index rose 1.4 percent; both were the largest monthly increases since April 2020.

The index for all items less food and energy rose 0.5 percent in February following a 0.6-percent increase the prior month. The shelter index was by far the biggest factor in the increase, with a broad set of indexes also contributing, including those for recreation, household furnishings and operations, motor vehicle insurance, personal care, and airline fares.

The rate of inflation accelerated in February as well. A monthly increase of 0.8% would annualize to 9.6%, nearly double digits. The only possible mitigating factor over the next few months is that the year-on-year calculations will factor in a rising inflation rate from Joe Biden’s first months in office:

Because of the rapid inflation increase of last spring, tied to the passage of the massive third stimulus tranche on which Joe Biden insisted, year-on-year inflation numbers might mitigate in the next three months. We will have to watch the monthly/annualized number instead to track the slope of inflation more accurately, at least until the summer rolls around.

By the way, we’re hitting lots of new records, not just on energy:

The administration will almost certainly blame this on Vladimir Putin, but that won’t work for most economists. For one thing, the invasion of Ukraine took place at the very end of February, so most of the CPI increase took place beforehand. For another, prices have been rising for months thanks to a bungled supply-chain crisis and the impact of vast monetary expansions. As the Wall Street Journal notes, most economists simply wondered whether we could outrun inflation before the war in Ukraine made the point moot:

Before the Ukraine crisis, economists and policy makers had been hoping for a peak in year-over-year inflation this spring as supply chains heal from pandemic-related disruptions and the Federal Reserve begins an expected series of interest rate increases next week. But the outbreak of war has supercharged prices for oil, wheat, and precious metals, threatening higher inflation for longer.

“We thought that inflation would come down, especially due to the untangling of the global supply chain, but we don’t know how what’s happening in Ukraine will re-tangle that,” said Joel Naroff, chief economist at Naroff Economics LLC.

CNBC’s Rick Santelli has had it with the litany of excuses coming out of the White House. Once Biden’s played the Putin card, though, he doesn’t have much left on the bingo card anyway:

CNBC’s analysis offers a pessimistic forward view as well, noting that oil price increases comprised only a smaller part of the jump:

Food prices rose 1% and food at home jumped 1.4%, both the fastest monthly gains since April 2020, in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Energy also was at the forefront of ballooning prices, up 3.5% for February and accounting for about one-third of the headline gain. Shelter costs, which account for about one-third of the CPI weighting, accelerated another 0.5%, for a 12-month rise of 4.7%, the fastest annual increase since May 1991.

Excluding volatile food and energy prices, so-called core inflation rose 6.4%, in line with estimates and the highest since August 1982. On a monthly basis, core CPI was up 0.5, also consistent with Wall Street expectations.

The rise in inflation meant worker paychecks fell further behind despite what otherwise would be considered strong increases.

That lost ground on wages has become ever-more acute in political risk for Democrats. Thus far they have not had any sort of coherent response to inflation, as Santelli’s rant covers pretty well. They keep trying to shift blame away from the true origins of this inflationary wave, which were the Ben Bernanke monetary expansions that Barack Obama encouraged to artificially goose the economy after the Great Recession, plus the monetary expansions of emergency COVID funding, catalyzed by Biden’s completely unnecessary stimulus one year ago. Economists warned that more stimulus would overheat the economy and lead to corrosive levels of inflation, but the White House scoffed at that — and still won’t acknowledge their errors.

If Biden wanted to tamp down inflation, he could roll back all of his imposed restrictions on domestic oil production. That would at least get the futures markets to price oil lower, which would cool down gas prices and get workers a little more buying power in the short run. Biden’s too benighted by his Green New Deal ambitions to do that, though, and so voters will have to kneecap that agenda in November.