American consumers continue to be weighed down by soaring levels of inflation as the consumer price index remained at a sky-high clip of 8.6% — the highest since 1981 — thanks to skyrocketing oil prices as well as the rising cost of food, rent and health care.
The 8.6% year-over-year figure is higher than the 8.3% that was predicted by analysts.
Experts at Dow Jones expected the consumer price index to rise 0.7% — an increase from 0.3% in April. Instead, it rose 1%, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Analysts had hoped the US had reached “peak inflation” and that the CPI would begin to show signs of cooling.
But as long as the price of oil continues to climb, it is unlikely that the CPI will moderate.
“That’s what changed our view over the last few weeks,” Sarah House, a senior economist at Wells Fargo, told CNBC.
“We’ve seen gasoline hit record levels. And naturally what’s prevented the peak from being behind us is what’s coming out of the energy sector.”
The US national average of a gallon of fuel is fast approaching the $5 benchmark — which would be a record.
According to AAA, the national average stood at $4.98 as of Friday. Motorists in nineteen states in the union are now paying at least $5 per gallon of gas.
Biden administration officials said they have limited means to lower the price of gas, which is emerging as a key political issue in the run-up to mid-term elections this fall.
The Republican Party is expected to take back the majority in the House and possibly the Senate.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on Thursday she did not expect the US economy to tip into a recession, but growth would “absolutely” slow down and gasoline prices were unlikely to fall anytime soon.
“I don’t think we’re (going to) have a recession. Consumer spending is very strong. Investment spending is solid,” she told a New York Times Dealbook event.
“I know people are very upset and rightly so about inflation, but there’s nothing to suggest that a…recession is in the works.”
Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo admitted Tuesday that the Biden administration is running out of options as it scrambles to bring down gas prices that have surged to record highs across the nation in recent weeks.
“Unfortunately, that is the brutal reality,” Raimondo told CNN.
The stark admission echoed similar remarks from President Biden, who has faced mounting pressure to respond to the gas crisis.
Raimondo echoed Biden’s frequent assertion that Russian President Vladimir Putin and his brutal invasion of Ukraine are most responsible for the spike in gas prices. Biden has referred to the increase as “Putin’s price hike.”
“This is, in large part, caused by Putin’s aggression,” Raimondo said. “Since Putin moved troops to the border of Ukraine, gas prices have gone up over $1.40 a gallon. The president is asking for Congress and others for potential ideas. But as you say, the reality is that there isn’t very much more to be done.”
The price of fuel is rising in tandem with oil prices, which continued to climb on Friday.
West Texas Intermediate crude, which is the US benchmark, rose nearly $1 and was selling at $122.50 per barrel as of Friday morning.
Brent Crude, the international benchmark, rose by nearly 1% and was trading at north of $124 per barrel.
The US central bank will hike its key interest rate by 50 basis points in June and July, with rising chances of a similar move in September, according to a Reuters poll of economists who see no pause in rate rises until next year.
Analysts expect the price of oil to either approach or possibly surpass $140 this summer as demand ramps up — coinciding with the travel season.
The debate over whether the US has reached “peak inflation” is critical since analysts say it will give them a better indication as to how the Federal Reserve will adjust monetary policy going forward.
Faced with inflation running at just below a four-decade high and more tightening in the labor market, the Fed is under pressure to quickly take its policy rate to the neutral level that neither stimulates nor restricts — and beyond.
All 85 economists in a June 6-9 Reuters poll predicted a 50 basis point federal funds rate hike to 1.25%-1.50% on Wednesday, after a similar move last month.
Another such hike was penciled in for July by all but a handful of survey contributors.
“The bad news for the Fed is that inflation is now so far above target that it has little choice but to tighten aggressively,” said Ethan Harris, global economist at Bank of America Securities.
Most Americans believe that inflation is going to get worse in the near future, with two-thirds surveyed who said that they expect prices will continue to go up.
The national survey of more than 1,000 adults in late April and early May found that 66% expect the prices of essential goods and services to increase in the next year, the Washington Post reported.
Meanwhile, just 21% said they expected the cost of everyday items like gas and groceries to go down, while 12% said they expected inflation to stay about the same, according to the poll conducted by the newspaper along with George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government.
With Post wire