Inflation Slightly Lower in April but Other Metrics Raise Concerns
Peter Bernstein, Chief Economist, firstname.lastname@example.org, 312-431-1540 x1515
The Current Situation
Inflation in April cooled somewhat with prices rising 8.2% vs. a year earlier compared with March’s year-over-year increase of 8.6%. Core inflation (excluding food and energy prices) also declined from 6.4% to 6.1%. On a monthly basis, prices rose 0.3% in April, a significant improvement from the 1.2% jump in March.
Against that good news are other factors which raise concerns about the future path of inflation. Both rents and owner-occupied housing prices increased at a faster pace in April than in March. It will be hard for inflation to meaningfully decline if these two components, which constitute almost one-third of the CPI index, continue to experience accelerating price gains.
On the positive side, several components of our Inflation Scorecard saw price declines (deflation) in April. Motor fuel prices (primarily gasoline) fell 5.8% in the month though prices are still 44% above their level a year ago. Used car prices declined for the second straight month and the prices for apparel and “education and communication” decreased as well. Thus, components representing one-sixth of the CPI index saw price declines in April.
Nevertheless, our Inflation Scorecard indicates that inflation remains stubbornly high. Based on their weight in the Consumer Price Index, 51% of our components saw rising inflation in April. And 81% of our components (by weight) had monthly price increases in April greater than 0.2%, which corresponds to the Fed’s annual target inflation rate of about 2.0% per year.
RCF’s Inflation Scorecard
RCF’s Inflation Scorecard is based on analysis of 20 different price series comprising 98% of the total consumer price index. Each of these price series represents a portion of the CPI based on household spending patterns. For example, food purchased for at-home consumption is about 8% of the typical consumer’s budget; it has a weight of 8.17 out of a total index of 100 as detailed later in this report.
Our scorecard presents two metrics to track month-to-month price increases.
The first metric is the share of the index for which inflation in the most recent month is rising (greater than the prior month inflation) vs. the share of the index for which inflation is falling (lower than the prior month) or prices fell (deflation). In April, 51% of the CPI components (weighted by their share of the CPI) showed rising inflation, while 46% saw falling inflation or deflation.
Our second metric is the share of the index for which the most recent month’s inflation exceeded 0.2%, a monthly rate that corresponds closely to the Federal Reserve’s target inflation rate of 2% per year. In April, 81% of the price series (weighted by their share of the total CPI index) exceeded the target.
RCF Inflation Scorecard: April 2022
Analysis of Individual Components of the Consumer Price Index
Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics and RCF Calculations 1. Inflation direction indicates whether inflation in April was higher or lower than inflation in March. Deflation means prices fell in April compared to March.
- On a year-over-year basis, seven of our 20 CPI components recorded double-digit inflation. These seven components represent 25% of the CPI index.
- Food-at-home prices continue to rise more than overall inflation, though the monthly increase moderated from 1.5% in March to a still high 1.0% in April.
- Motor fuel (primarily gasoline) prices, which surged an astounding 18.3% in March, fell 5.8% in April. Even so, motor fuel prices are 44.0% higher than they were a year ago. Similarly, used car and truck prices declined in April but remain 22.7% higher than they were in April 2021.
- Although rent and owner’s equivalent rent are up only 4.8% vs. a year ago, they both saw higher inflation in April than in March. With new rental lease prices continuing to increase, we expect the rent component of the CPI to show rising inflation in the coming months. Rising shelter costs will likely show up in the price index for owner occupied housing.
- Public transportation prices, which includes airfares, rose 12.1% in April alone, which along with the 1.7% increase in the April price of lodging away from home indicate that the travel industry cannot keep pace with the increase in demand as the Covid-19 pandemic subsides.