Markets fall as US consumer prices see sharpest monthly climb since 2008

US consumer prices soared in April as post-lockdown demand and shortages drove up the cost of a wide range of goods, from used cars and home furnishings to airline tickets.

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) climbed 4.2% during the month from a year earlier, the Labor Department said, the biggest 12-month increase since September 2008, the height of the financial crisis. The figure was significantly higher than economists had predicted.

Many factors contributed to the rise. The Biden administration’s economic stimulus package has pumped money into the economy just as it reopens from coronavirus lockdown measures. Fresh demand for goods and services has also outpaced supply, which is still recovering from the lockdowns at the start of the pandemic, leading to shortages for a broad range of goods from lumber and steel to ketchup.

Used car and truck prices in particular have surged as a global shortage of microchips has dampened production of new vehicles. The price of a used car rose 10% over the month and topped $25,000 for the first time, about $2,800 higher than in April last year, according to research firm JD Power.

The figures are inflated by a collapse in prices last year as the US economy shut down, but they still caught economists by surprise. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg had expected a 3.6% increase in CPI over the year and a 0.2% increase from March. The monthly increase was 0.8%. The news led US stock markets to fall again after a sharp selloff on Tuesday.

The Federal Reserve has predicted a spike in inflation in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic but has said it believes it will be short-lived. Investors are now worried that the rise in prices will be higher and more sustained than the central bank believes, and are worried the Fed may have to increase interest rates sooner than expected in order to contain the surge.

“April inflation data far exceeded market expectations,” the Economist Intelligence Unit wrote in a note to investors. “We had expected to see a big jump in year-on-year inflation in April, given the comparison to the depth of the recession in April 2020. However, the month-on-month increase in prices, coming on top of a 0.6% monthly increase in March, was surprisingly strong.”


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