If you remember your college (or high school if you were precocious) calculus, what we’re worrying about now isn’t the rate of inflation, or even the change in the rate of inflation, but the change in the change of the rate of inflation.
Or, in other words, are we seeing the drop in inflation decelerate?
Today’s CPI inflation data doesn’t provide a definite answer, but it does give investors grounds for worry.
On a year-over-year basis headline inflation fell. Data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics this morning, February 14, showed all-in prices rose 6.4% in January 2023 from January 2022. That was a slight drop from the 6.5% year-over-year rate measured in December. (Remember the inflation rate peaked at 9.1% in the summer of 2022.)
But on a month-to-month basis, January prices rose 0.5% from December. That was an increase from the 0.1% month-to-month increase in December from November. And since the year-over-year trend is made up of all those month-to-month moves, the January increase in the rate of the month-to-month increase isn’t a good sign.
Housing costs were by far the largest contributor, accounting for nearly half of the monthly increase. Fed officials and economists keep saying that rent inflation will fall as prices for new leases cool off. But not yet. Rent in January was up 0.7% from December in comparison with a 0.8% month-to-month increase in December. The annual increase was a huge 8.6%.
Food, gasoline, and natural gas also drove prices higher. The food index in January rose 0.5% from December. The energy index rose 2% from December, and the gasoline index increased 2.4%.
The core CPI inflation index–that is all items less food and energy prices–rose 0.4 percent in January. The core index was up 5.6% year over year.
The CPI inflation report was almost exactly on economist and investor expectations, so, as you would expect, stocks haven’t moved much today. The Standard & Poor’s 500 was down 0.04% as of 1 p.m. New York time. The NASDAQ Composite was ahead 0.24%.