Economists seeking a sign that the country’s financial health was turning a corner were left reeling after the federal government released data indicating that inflation rose at a pace not seen in more than four decades.
Consumer prices surged 8.6% last month from 12 months earlier, faster than April’s year-over-year surge of 8.3%, the Labor Department said Friday.
The cost of gas, food and other necessities jumped in May, giving American households no respite from rising costs.
The latest figures dashed hopes that the worst of inflation, which has spiraled out of control in the last year, was behind us.
“So much for the idea that inflation has peaked,” Greg McBride, the chief financial analyst for Bankrate, told The Post.
“Consumer prices blew past expectations – and not in a good way – with the 8.6% annual increase the fastest in more than 40 years. Worse, the increases were nearly ubiquitous.”
“Just no place to hide.”
With gasoline prices up 50% year-over-year, rent prices having increased by 31%, and food prices rising at their steepest rate in more than 41 years during the same period, “any relief for household budgets remains elusive,” McBride said.
Low unemployment and recently strong jobs numbers stoked some optimism that the worst of inflation has passed. But Friday’s numbers were a cold dose of reality.
“The idea of peak inflation assumes that our supply chain disruptions are over and won’t recur anytime soon and I’m not so sure we can be confident of that,” Nancy Davis, founder of Greenwich, Connecticut-based Quadratic Capital Management, told The Post.
Experts told The Post that the American consumer is now paying the price for the Fed’s robust intervention, which kept the economy afloat during the dark days of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The record levels of inflation are being driven by the unprecedented easy money policy that was adopted by the Federal Reserve in response to the economic downturn precipitated by the Coronavirus pandemic,” Robert R. Johnson, the chairman and CEO of New York City-based Economic Index Associates, said.
“Simply put, it can be explained by ‘too many dollars chasing too few goods’.”
Peter Earle, a research fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research, told The Post that “the costs of tremendous expansionary monetary policy measures of 2020 and 2021 [are] coming home to roost.”
He said that the stubbornly high levels of inflation is giving the Fed and its chair, Jerome Powell, limited options.
“The Fed is now between a rock and a very hard place,” Earle told The Post.
“Acting more aggressively to stem the rise in prices heightens the likelihood of causing a recession.”
He added: “Inflation is now a front-page issue.”
Whether the Fed succeeds in bringing inflation under control is up in the air, according to analysts, particularly in light of persistent uncertainties fueled by geopolitical turmoil in Eastern Europe.
“It’s still unclear how effective tighter monetary policy will be in pushing inflation down, which is largely being driven by supply chain disruptions, which have only worsened since the war in Ukraine that is showing no signs of ending,” Davis said.
She added there is a real fear that aggressive moves by the Fed will end up “choking” the economy.
“The Fed has been talking a very good game and the rates market expects hikes will reduce future inflation,” Davis said.
“Historically, Fed utterances have been very powerful. Everyone knows you don’t fight the Fed.”
“But inflationary pressures are still coming from the supply side, which the Fed cannot control.”