Was last week’s tiny decrease in the August consumer price index just enough to dissuade the Federal Reserve from announcing this Wednesday that it’s planning to start tapering its massive $120 billion a month asset purchase program? The financial markets and the financial press interpreted (hoped?) the report signaled that inflation might really be transitory after all and that the Fed will have no reason to reduce its purchases—at least not yet.
The headline CPI number rose 0.3% from July, slightly below the prior month’s 0.5% jump. The year-on-year increase came in at 5.3%, down a mere one-tenth of a percentage point from July’s 5.4% pace. That prompted near-euphoria from some analysts that the recent spike in inflation over the past five months had mercifully come to an end, giving the Fed little reason to begin the taper soon.
Needless to say, the release a few days before of the producer price index, which jumped 0.7% from the prior month and 8.3% YOY, got much less attention, even though producer prices often presage higher consumer prices. Indeed, many manufacturers have begun to announce they must and will raise prices and make them stick, meaning inflation is anything but transitory.
The Fed, however, is likely to stick to its earlier policy intention to let inflation run “hotter for longer” and not make a commitment to start tapering just yet, despite recent comments from a bevy of Fed officials—including Fed Chair Jerome Powell—that it is poised to do so. The Fed never said what “hotter” or “longer” meant, but five straight months of 4%-plus annualized inflation may not have met the criteria, whatever it is. Instead, Powell has realigned his focus from inflation to the jobs market, fostering full employment being the Fed’s other mandate. And on that score, following August’s disappointing jobs report, we are definitely not in the taper zone just yet. Continue reading "What To Expect From This Week's Fed Meeting"