U.S. consumer prices soared by the most in nearly 12 years in April as a large demand amid a reopening economy pushed against supply constraints, which could add fuel to financial market fears of a lengthy period of higher inflation.
The report from the Labor Department on Wednesday also showed a strong building up of underlying price pressures, extending a selloff on Wall Street. Most economists were, however, steady in their belief that the surge in prices would be temporary, with bottlenecks in the supply chain expected to ease. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell shares similar views.
“This is not a sign of an inflation problem,” said Robert Barbera, director of Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Financial Economics. “We have the capacity to produce this stuff, we simply need time to get things back on line.”
The consumer price index jumped 0.8 percent last month, the largest gain since June 2009. The CPI rose 0.6 percent in March. A record 10 percent increase in prices of used cars and trucks accounted for over a third of the increase in the CPI last month. That followed a 0.5 percent rise in March. Motor vehicle production has been hampered by a global semiconductor shortage, boosting demand for used automobiles.
A sharp rebound is likely after hackers shut down Colonial Pipeline, leaving gas stations from Florida to Virginia running dry and prices at the pump surging this week.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the CPI climbing 0.2% in April. In the 12 months through April, the CPI shot up 4.2%. That was the largest gain since September 2008 and followed a 2.6% increase in March. The jump mostly reflected the dropping of last spring’s weak readings from the calculation.
Those so-called base effects are expected to push annual inflation even higher in the months ahead.
Economists are keeping an eye on fairly high inflation expectations, which some say could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“Consumers see prices of everything from computer chips to chicken wings jumping,” said Sung Won Sohn, professor of finance and economics at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. “In addition to the massive stimulus worth a few trillion dollars so far, there will be many more trillions of dollars of additional spending to come adding to inflationary pressure.”
Prices for new motor vehicles increased a solid 0.5%. Consumers also paid more for recreation, motor vehicle insurance and household furnishings. But healthcare costs edged up 0.1% for a second straight month.
In the 12 months through April, the core CPI jumped 3.0%. That was the biggest increase since January 1996 and followed a 1.6% advance in March.