U.S. consumers paid more for a variety of goods and services in February compared to the prior month and year, with prices climbing across the economy amid lingering supply and demand imbalances.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose 7.9% in February compared to last year, marking the fastest annual jump since 1982. This took out January’s previous 40-year high rate of 7.5%, and matched consensus economist expectations, according to Bloomberg data.
On a month-over-month basis, consumer price increases also accelerated. The CPI rose 0.8% in February compared to January after increasing by 0.6% during the prior month.
A surge in energy prices was one of the key contributors to the latest red-hot CPI print. Even before Russia invaded Ukraine and raised concerns over global energy disruptions, oil and gas prices were on the rise, as demand for fuel oil and other energy products outstripped tight global supplies. In February, the energy index jumped 3.5% for the largest monthly rise since October. And over last year, the energy index was up 25.6%.
A further impact from the Russia-Ukraine crisis and extended jump in energy prices that has ensued will likely show up in the CPI data in March, given the invasion first began in late February. Since then, gas prices at the pump have jumped to record levels, and crude oil prices have climbed to 14-year highs and at least briefly topped $130 per barrel.
“Thursday’s inflation data is continued confirmation that inflation is not transitory and has not peaked. Thursday’s data is for February, which does not account for the early March spike in oil prices,” Robert Schein, chief investment officer of Blanke Schein Wealth Management, said in an email Thursday morning. “We believe there will be even stronger inflation reports over the coming months, which suggests that the Federal Reserve needs to accelerate its rate hike plans, even with the renewed uncertainty that has emerged from the crisis in Russia and Ukraine.”
In a statement Thursday morning, President Joe Biden pointed to Russia’s war in Ukraine as a main contributor to the latest jump in prices.
“Today’s inflation report is a reminder that Americans‘ budgets are being stretched by price increases and families are starting to feel the impacts of Putin’s price hike,” Biden said. “A large contributor to inflation this month was an increase in gas and energy prices as markets reacted to Putin’s aggressive actions. As I have said from the start, there will be costs at home as we impose crippling sanctions in response to Putin’s unprovoked war, but Americans can know this: the costs we are imposing on Putin and his cronies are far more devastating than the costs we are facing.”
Russia’s isolation from other global economies has also driven volatility across agricultural commodities including wheat — for which Russia is the world’s largest exporter — and added the specter of a further jump in food prices.
In February, the food price index rose 1% month-on-month, also picking up slightly from January’s 0.9% rise. This was driven in turn by prices for food at home, which rose 1.4% and brought the annual increase in this index up to 8.6%.
Even excluding volatile food and energy prices, the so-called core CPI also accelerated in February. The core CPI rose 6.4% in February over last year to also set the fastest rate since 1982. Prices for shelter — one of the stickier inflationary categories — picked up in February, and rent prices rose 0.6% month-over-month. Airline fares jumped 5.2% to more than double the increase from January, as fading Omicron virus cases helped stoke demand for travel. However, used car and truck prices — which have been closely watched as auto supply shortages drove prices higher for pre-owned vehicles — fell for the first time since September, dipping 0.2% month-on-month.
But even given the current tight labor market and increasing wages for many workers, inflation has still been rising at a faster clip than earnings have been able to match. Average hourly earnings last rose at a 5.1% annual rate in February, Labor Department data last week showed.
“Robust pay increases have been no match for the higher costs households are facing on rent, food, electricity, gasoline, and a pervasive list of both goods and services,” Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate, said in an email on Tuesday. “The buying power of Americans is being squeezed more and more each day, and you see this reality reflected in the dour consumer sentiment readings.”
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