Higher Core Inflation Could Trigger Deep Recession

Higher Core Inflation Could Trigger Deep Recession

Inflation Risk

Rising Core Inflation Sparks Concerns of a Deep Recession:

Consumer prices in the United States experienced a more significant surge than anticipated in December, amplifying speculation about the Federal Reserve’s capacity to implement necessary interest rate cuts. The December Consumer Price Index (CPI) disclosed a month-over-month increase of 0.3%, surpassing November’s 0.2%. On a year-over-year basis, prices rose by 3.4%, up from the 3.1% reported the previous month.

Economists, relying on Bloomberg data, had predicted a 0.2% increase in prices month over month and a 3.2% rise year over year. The unexpected surge has triggered intensified discussions about the potential repercussions on the Federal Reserve’s decisions regarding interest rates.

When isolating the volatile food and energy categories, the “core” inflation rate slightly decreased to an annual rate of 3.9% from the 4.0% reported the prior month. Monthly core inflation remained stable at 0.3%, aligning with expectations.

Morgan Stanley’s chief US economist, Ellen Zentner, interpreted the inflation print as supporting the view that any future disinflation would be gradual, particularly with the persistence of sticky services inflation.

Key Highlights from the Inflation Data:

  1. The shelter index witnessed a substantial annual rise of 6.2%, contributing over half of the overall price gains.
  2. Rent prices within the core inflation category remained elevated, with the index for rent and owners’ equivalent rent increasing by 0.5% monthly for the third consecutive month.
  3. Motor vehicle insurance experienced a remarkable year-over-year surge of 20.3%, marking the most substantial gain since 1976.
  4. Monthly prices for used cars, which had recently experienced a downtrend, increased by 0.1%.
  5. Food prices rose by 2.7% in December year over year, with a 0.1% increase from November to December. Egg prices notably surged by 8.9% month over month.
  6. Some indexes, including household furnishings and operations, as well as personal care, experienced a decrease over the month.

Investors have been closely monitoring inflation data, aiming to discern the likelihood of a soft landing scenario where inflation retreats to 2% without provoking an economic downturn. A soft landing scenario could signal the conclusion of the central bank’s interest rate hiking campaign and the initiation of rate cuts, potentially reducing borrowing costs for businesses and consumers.

As of early Thursday morning, market expectations indicate a roughly 69% chance of the Federal Reserve cutting interest rates in March, according to the CME FedWatch Tool, maintaining consistency from the previous day. Bank of America US economist Stephen Juneau suggested that the latest inflation data doesn’t significantly alter the outlook for rate cuts, foreseeing a potential March cut to initiate a cutting cycle.

Despite market sentiment leaning towards anticipating interest rate cuts, Federal Reserve officials have maintained a cautious approach. Fed Governor Michelle Bowman stated on Monday that the Fed might need to cut rates if inflation falls further, but they have not reached that point yet. Atlanta Fed president Raphael Bostic echoed similar sentiments, emphasizing the importance of maintaining a restrictive stance and carefully observing how the economy evolves.

The unexpected rise in inflation could potentially contribute to a prolonged period of elevated interest rates, posing challenges that may lead to an economic downturn. Striking the delicate balance between managing inflation and preventing a recession remains a critical challenge for policymakers in the months ahead. The Federal Reserve finds itself in a precarious position, navigating economic indicators while striving to steer the economy away from the brink of a deep recession.

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