Consumer inflation stabilizes while wholesale inflation explodes in April mixed-bag

For the first time all year, consumer price index inflation came in line with investor expectations, rising by 0.3% in April but slightly moderating from 3.5% to 3.4% as measured for the last 12 months. Core CPI, which excludes the volatile categories of food and energy, also rose by 0.3% to moderate from 3.8% to 3.6%. Crucially, core CPI on a three-month annualized basis, which more precisely measures the recent trajectory of the price instability borne by consumers, slipped from 4.5% to 4.1% last month.

But while markets will surely pounce on this news as a promise that the Federal Reserve will deliver a much-desired pivot to slash the federal funds rate from its current 23-year high, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has not delivered solely decent news.

Both headline and core wholesale inflation, which is a leading indicator of price instability because prices borne by producers are passed to consumers in due time, rose by 0.5% in April alone. On an annualized basis, headline producer price index inflation has more than doubled to the start of this year from 0.9% to 2.2%, while core PPI has risen from 2% to 2.4%.

Undergirding all of this is the Fed’s unyielding commitment to return inflation to its maximum 2% target and Chairman Jerome Powell‘s specific terror of repeating the inflation rebounds of the myopic doves who lead the central bank before Paul Volcker had to jack up interest rates 45 years ago into the double digits to save the U.S. dollar.

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Investors will celebrate this mixed bag as a step in the right direction, but realistically, it’s far too little to herald a turning point in the Fed’s backsliding war on the worst inflation in 40 years.

Consumer inflation is indeed stabilizing in speed, but it remains around twice the Fed’s maximum inflation target. Meanwhile, producer inflation is nominally around the Fed’s target but is moving fast in a dangerous direction. At a minimum, April’s CPI report should prevent panic, but the inflation war isn’t just far from over — there’s still barely any evidence that it’s headed back in the right direction.

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