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The Week Ahead: From transitory to entrenched -- inflation and expectations

Tom Hudson, Miami Herald on

Published in Business News

Words matter in the investing world. So does data.

Investors will be measuring one with the other on Friday in the week ahead with the November release of consumer inflation.

For months the Federal Reserve’s official position on rising prices had been that they were “transitory.” The “this too shall pass” message was designed to squelch fears in the investment markets that sharply higher prices were gaining purchase in the broader economy. When Fed Chairman Jerome Powell characterized the higher-than-desired inflation as “transitory,” it was interpreted to mean temporary.

Yet just as spring leads to summer and summer welcomes autumn, the higher rising prices have stuck around for months and have shown few signs of cooling down. One of the largest importers in South Florida told me shipping costs for furniture from Southeast Asia have more than doubled. A toy importer shared that his shipping costs from China quintupled over the summer as he was stocking up for the holidays. As some of those costs are passed along, that helps feed stronger inflation.

Last week during his two appearances on Capitol Hill, Powell no longer described inflation as transitory in his remarks. “I think it’s probably a good time to retire that word,” he said.

 

He admitted the threat of higher inflation sticking around has grown even while he believes the price trends will ease in the second half of next year. He pledged the central bank would work to “make sure that higher inflation does not become entrenched.”

That change represents more than a rhetorical shift. It is an admission that is obvious in the data: Prices continue rising for all sorts of items, like bacon, suits and tires. And it is an acknowledgement the Fed’s real worry is consumers expecting prices to continue spiraling.

Investors are weary of waiting for price trends to ease and watchful for inflation becoming ingrained in the economy.

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