Saturday, April 16, 2011

Someone else seems to "get it"

Rising food, gas prices lift U.S. consumer inflation
WASHINGTON— Americans are paying more for food and gas, a trend that could slow economic growth in the months ahead.

The Consumer Price Index rose 0.5 percent in March, the Labor Department said Friday. That
matched February's increase, the largest since the recession ended in June 2009. In the past 12 months, the index has increased 2.7 percent, the biggest rise since December 2009.

Excluding the volatile food and gas categories, the so-called core index rose 0.1 percent and it is up only 1.2 percent in the past year.

Consumers are spending more, but the steep rise in food and gas prices could limit their
ability to purchase discretionary goods and services. Consumer spending makes up 70
percent of economic activity.

Rising inflation has caused many analysts to reduce their estimates for economic growth in
the January-March quarter from roughly 3 percent or higher to as low as 1.5 percent.

Gasoline jumped 5.6 percent last month and has risen nearly 28 percent in the past year.
Consumers paid an average price of $3.81 a gallon nationwide on Friday according to the
travel group AAA.

Food prices rose 0.8 percent last month, the largest increase in almost three years. Prices
for fruits and vegetables, dairy products, chicken and beef all increased. Coffee costs
rose 3.5 percent.

Separately, the Federal Reserve said U.S. factories produced more consumer goods,
business equipment and raw materials in March, boosting manufacturing activity for the
ninth straight month. Overall industrial production increased 0.8 percent.

Factory production, the largest single segment of industrial production, increased 0.7 percent advertisementadvertisement Rising food, gas prices lift U.S. consumer inflation
Trend could slow economic growth in the months ahead, new report suggests last month. Manufacturing has been a key driver of economic growth since the recession ended. That continued last month, even with supply chain disruptions stemming from the
crisis in Japan.

Manufacturers, food processors and other producers are facing higher costs for oil,
grains and other commodities. But only some of those increases are reaching the consumer.
Many retailers are reluctant to pass on the higher prices for fear of losing price-
conscious customers.

Vegetable bandits strike as food prices soar

Consumers have seen wages and salaries stagnate in the past year, limiting their ability
to pay more for many goods. According to a separate government report Friday, average
hourly earnings for all employees, adjusted for inflation, dropped 1 percent in the past 12

Stagnant wages are a big reason that most Federal Reserve policymakers say the spike in
gas and food will have only a modest and temporary impact on inflation.

"Nothing here to change the Fed's view that the surge in commodity prices can be ignored as
long as it doesn't lead to second-round effects in wages and core inflation," said Paul
Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Who can you trust?

Here's a question I would like to pose for the loyal Efinity audience.

Is the economic environment in this country really improving or are we all being fed a stream of special interest commentary which want us to think things are getting better?

I have two separate examples for your collective review which point to the latter. I for one have a HUGE problem with this. It's important to note that I include our government included as one of the special interest groups.
Example #1
As reported by the Wall Street Journal, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke Monday downplayed inflation fears which led some of colleagues to recently warn tighter monetary policy may be needed to keep prices in check. Bernanke said the rise in global commodity prices is likely to be temporary and shouldn't translate into a broader inflation problem. However, the Fed chief was quick to add that if his prediction is wrong and inflation begins to mark strong gains, the central bank would respond. "I think the increase in inflation will be transitory," Bernanke said when asked to further explain.
This has been a consistent them from the Fed Chairman for the past 18 months. In no way shape or form believe my limited view trumps the access to data the Fed Chairman has, however I do believe that statistics can be shown in many ways to shape many opinions. And if left-unchecked can fog the real issue which is that inflation is here, it will affect the economic recovery of this country and there is a strategic advantage for the Fed to not fully publicize the real issue.

Allow me to explain further (if you don't care to read through this, you can skip to my summary). First, one has to understand how the Bureau of Labor Statistics determines the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The CPI is a measure of the average change in prices over time of goods and services purchased by households. The Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes CPIs for two population groups: (1) the CPI for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W), which covers households of wage earners and clerical workers that comprise approximately 32 percent of the total population and (2) the CPI for all Urban Consumers (CPI-U) and the Chained CPI for All Urban Consumers (C-CPI-U), which cover approximately 87 percent of the total population and include in addition to wage earners and clerical worker households, groups such as professional, managerial, and technical workers, the self-employed, short-term workers, the unemployed, and retirees and others not in the labor force. The CPIs are based on prices of food, clothing, shelter, and fuels, transportation fares, charges for doctors' and dentists' services, drugs, and other goods and services that people buy for day-to-day living. Prices are collected each month in 87 urban areas across the country from about 4,000 housing units and approximately 26,000 retail establishments-department stores, supermarkets, hospitals, filling stations, and other types of stores and service establishments. All taxes directly associated with the purchase and use of items are included in the index. Prices of fuels and a few other items are obtained every month in all 87 locations. Prices of most other commodities and services are collected every month in the three largest geographic areas and every other month in other areas. Prices of most goods and services are obtained by personal visits or telephone calls of the Bureau's trained representatives.

In calculating the index, price changes for the various items in each location are averaged together with weights, which represent their importance in the spending of the appropriate population group. Local
data are then combined to obtain a U.S. city average. For the CPI-U and CPI-W separate indexes are also published by size of city, by region of the country, for cross-classifications of regions and population-size classes, and for 27 local areas. Area indexes do not measure differences in the level of prices among cities; they only measure the average change in prices for each area since the base period. For the C-CPI-U data are issued only at the national level. It is important to note that the CPI-U and CPI-W are considered final when released, but the C-CPI-U is issued in preliminary form and subject to two annual revisions.

The index measures price change from a designed reference date. For the CPI-U and the CPI-W the reference base is 1982-84 equals 100. The reference base for the C-CPI-U is December 1999 equals 100. An increase of 16.5 percent from the reference base, for example, is shown as 116.500. This change can also be expressed in dollars as follows: the price of a base period market basket of goods and services in the CPI has risen from $10 in 1982-84 to $11.65.

Now that you have a better understanding, here's the most recent summary dates March 17th (see
I'd like to point you to a few items once you've read through this list.

Seasonally adjusted changes from preceding month
Un-adjusted 12-mos.
Aug. Sep. Oct. Nov. Dec. Jan. Feb. ended
2010 2010 2010 2010 2010 2011 2011 Feb. 2011

All items.................. .2 .2 .2 .1 .4 .4 .5 2.1
Food...................... .1 .3 .1 .2 .1 .5 .6 2.3
Food at home............. .0 .4 .1 .2 .2 .7 .8 2.8
Food away from home (1).. .3 .3 .1 .1 .1 .2 .2 1.6
Energy.................... 1.6 1.1 2.5 .1 4.0 2.1 3.4 11.0
Energy commodities....... 2.6 2.2 4.4 .7 6.4 4.0 4.8 19.3
Gasoline (all types) .... 2.9 2.2 4.5 .7 6.7 3.5 4.7 19.2
Fuel oil (1)............ .9 .8 4.7 4.2 4.9 6.8 5.8 27.1
Energy services.......... .4 -.4 .0 -.8 .6 -.6 1.1 .2
Electricity............. .1 -.1 .2 .6 .3 -.5 .4 2.2
Utility (piped) gas
service.............. 1.4 -1.4 -.6 -5.3 1.7 -1.2 3.4 -5.9
All items less food and
energy................. .1 .0 .0 .1 .1 .2 .2 1.1
Commodities less food and
energy commodities.... .1 -.2 -.2 .0 -.1 .2 .2 .0
New vehicles............ .2 .1 -.1 -.2 -.1 -.1 1.0 .9
Used cars and trucks.... .9 -.4 -.6 .1 -.1 -.3 .1 1.9
Apparel................. .0 -.5 -.2 .1 .1 1.0 -.9 -.4
Medical care commodities
(1).................. .2 .3 .1 .2 .1 .5 .7 2.7
Services less energy
services.............. .0 .1 .1 .2 .1 .1 .2 1.5
Shelter................. .0 .0 .1 .1 .1 .1 .1 .8
Transportation services .0 .3 .3 .4 .2 .6 .5 3.5
Medical care services... .2 .7 .2 .2 .3 -.1 .4 3.0

Our SummaryWhile statically speaking, the adjusted 12 month index reflected a 2.1% increase (before seasonal adjustments), unless you're radically different than most people I know and don't spend equally on a whole range it items (including evidently a whole lot of apparel) this report summarized simply does not accurately reflect the present sign of the times. Which is; food, energy and gasoline are MAJOR drivers for people's spending. Car sales are down. Home sales are down. So if we were to focus on the net spending habits of people and clients (we deal with); here's the summary of inflation as it affects them:
• Food - 2.3 increase
• Food at home - 2.8% increase
• Energy - 11% increase
• Gasoline (all types) - 19.2% increase
Interesting that all of these figures are materially higher than the 2.1% reported CPI. The takeaway here is simply that disposable income is being reduced. As a country moving away from manufacturing and more towards consumer services, disposable income is imperative to a healthy and strong recover. Same goes for jobs. Perhaps this is a prime reason channels like CNBC dedicate some much talk of crude oil prices.

Example #2 forthcoming in the next Efinity Report post.