US producer prices accelerate in another sign of inflation dangers

US producer prices jumped more than expected at the start of the year, reinforcing the case for the Federal Reserve to more rapidly remove the economic stimulus it has provided since the early days of the pandemic.

The producer price index, tracking the prices that businesses receive for their goods and services, rose 1 per cent in January, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said on Tuesday. That was well above the 0.4 per cent rise registered in the previous period and double what economists had forecast.

The large monthly gain translated to an annual increase of 9.7 per cent, in line with December’s surge. Last year was the largest calendar-year increase in wholesale inflation since the data were first compiled in 2010.

Once volatile items such as food, energy and transportation are stripped out, so-called core producer prices increased 0.9 per cent between December and January, or 6.9 per cent on a year-over-year basis. In December, those prices were 0.4 per cent higher month-on-month, or 7 per cent higher compared to the same time last year.

The data come on the heels of another alarming inflation report, which last week showed US consumer prices climbing at the fastest annual pace in 40 years, at 7.5 per cent. High inflation has been an obstacle for President Joe Biden’s economic agenda as well as the Fed.

Investors have increased bets that the central bank will respond forcefully in an attempt to tame inflation, with some speculating at one point the Fed would convene an unscheduled meeting to raise interest rates prior to the next planned gathering in mid-March. However, the Fed is highly unlikely to make such a move given it typically reserves emergency adjustments for acute crises.

An increasing number of Wall Street economists have also pencilled in a half-point interest rate rise next month, although market pricing suggests traders broadly expect the central bank to stick to its typical cadence and deliver roughly seven quarter-point increases this year.

Fed officials appear split on how exactly to proceed after March, with Mary Daly, president of the San Francisco branch, on Sunday advocating for the central bank to be “measured” in its approach.

James Bullard, president of the St Louis Fed and a voting member on the policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee, on Monday reiterated his call for a more rapid withdrawal of policy support and backed a 1 percentage point increase in the federal funds rate by July.

The Fed has maintained its benchmark interest rate at a range of 0 to 0.25 per cent since 2020.

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