Is the great inflation bubble of 2021 about to pop? A lot of very important people in Washington sure hope so, but it looks like they’re about to be disappointed.
Every major barometer of inflation has soared this year, particularly the consumer price index. The cost of living, as measured by the CPI, has jumped 5.4% in the past year to mark the biggest increase in 13 years.
The latest batch of inflation reports are expected to show more of the same. Consumer prices are forecast to rise 0.5% in July, keeping the yearly rate above 5%. The report will be published on Wednesday this week.
The Federal Reserve, based in Washington, has contended for months that the burst of inflation is all temporary.
Their argument goes like this: The reopening of the economy spawned a huge increase in demand that companies were unable to meet owing to widespread shortages of supplies and labor. The mismatch between supply and demand has forced companies to raise prices or wages and contributed to a broad increase in inflation.
Once more people return to work and supply shortages evaporate, the thinking goes, inflation will subside. The Fed predicts inflation will revert back to its pre-crisis average of 2% a year or less.
There’s some scattered signs of easing price pressures in the economy, but not enough to alter the current picture. Jerome Powell, the Fed chairman, recently acknowledged inflation could remain high for longer than the central bank predicts.
High inflation, even if it’s just short-lived, still costs the economy. For one thing, it erodes the pay of workers if prices rise faster than wages. And if inflation pinches hard enough, it could cause millions of Americans to spend less.
The chief worry among Fed critics is that inflation will persist well above the Fed’s 2% goal into next year and perhaps beyond. It could act as a tax on the economy or even pressure the central bank to raise interest rates sooner than it would like.
“We don’t see price pressures easing this year, and likely spilling over into next year,” economists Aneta Markowska and Thomas Simons of Jefferies LLC told clients in a note.
Rising cases of the delta variant around the world are adding to the worries. The new strain could prolong the disruptions in global trade that have contributed to the supply shortages in the U.S. and keep the upward pressure on prices.
For now, the Fed isn’t worrying all that much — and investors aren’t, either. The stock market has continued to set records and long-term interest rates have actually fallen in the past several months.