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Economic Forecasts

Gasoline and Food Push Inflation Up

Consumers are seeing some prices increase, but overall inflation numbers remain subdued.

Despite noticeably higher prices for some products, overall inflation is likely to stay tame well into next year. The Consumer Price Index rose only 0.2% in October and just 1.2% over the past 12 months. Inflation next year is likely to creep just a tad higher, to about 1.5% for the year.

At least part of the big jump in prices for several commodities -- ranging from cotton to copper -- is being passed from manufacturers to consumers. As a result, shoppers are paying more for coffee, tires, gasoline, beer and breakfast cereals, among other items. Food prices rose 0.1% last month. Ditto, medical care. Gasoline prices showed a spurt of 4.6% during the month.

But price declines for a variety of goods are offsetting much of the impact. Consumers are shelling out less for cars, flat-panel TVs, computers, apparel and other goods. When all is said and done, inflation over 2010 is likely to be just 1%.

Core inflation, which excludes typically volatile food and energy prices from the calculation, was flat in October, with a scant 0.1% increase in rents, which dominate the makeup of the index. For the past 12 months the core CPI has risen just 0.6%, well below the Federal Reserve’s unofficial target of 1% to 2%.

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So the central bank will continue its recently announced program to buy long-term Treasury notes -- up to $600 billion in the next six months -- in an effort to boost economic growth. Critics blast the Fed for sowing the seeds of future inflation, but as Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke repeatedly notes, inflation remains nearly nonexistent, while the nation’s unemployment rate is an unacceptable 9.6%.