More expensive food, rents boost U.S. inflation; further increases anticipated

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. consumer prices increased solidly in September as Americans paid more for food, rent and a range of other goods, putting pressure on the Biden administration to urgently resolve strained supply chains, which are hampering economic growth.

With prices likely to rise further in the months ahead following a recent surge in the costs of energy products, the report from the Labor Department on Wednesday could test Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell’s repeated assertion that high inflation is transitory. Powell and the White House have blamed supply chain bottlenecks for the high inflation.

Supply chains have been gummed up by robust demand as economies emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. The coronavirus has caused a global shortage of workers needed to produce raw materials and move goods from factories to consumers.

“Today’s number, with food price inflation and shelter inflation moving higher, suggests growing pressure on consumers,” said Seema Shah, chief strategist at Principal Global Investors. “Keep in mind too that the recent rise in oil prices hasn’t yet fed through to the numbers – that’s still to come, while the renewed rise in car prices is also likely to drive inflation numbers higher in the coming months.”

The consumer price index rose 0.4% last month after climbing 0.3% in August. Food prices jumped 0.9% after increasing 0.4% in the prior month. Owners’ equivalent rent of primary residence, which is what a homeowner would receive from renting a home, increased 0.4% after gaining 0.3% in August.

Food and rents accounted for more than half of the increase in the CPI in September. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the overall CPI would rise 0.3%.

In the 12 months through September, the CPI increased 5.4% after advancing 5.3% on a year-on-year basis in August.

Excluding the volatile food and energy components, the CPI climbed 0.2% after edging up 0.1% in August, the smallest gain in six months. In addition to rents, the co-called core CPI was lifted by a 1.3% increase in the cost of new motor vehicles, which marked the fifth straight month of gains above 1%.

A global semiconductor shortage has forced auto manufacturers to cut production. There were also increases in the prices of household furnishings and operations last month. Consumers also paid more for motor vehicle insurance.

But prices for airline fares and apparel as well as used cars and trucks all fell. The so-called core CPI rose 4.0% on a year-on-year basis last month, matching the gain in August.

HIGH ENERGY PRICES

Oil prices jumped on Monday to the highest levels in years amid a rebound in global demand after the pandemic. Though Brent crude futures fell on Wednesday, prices remained above $80 a barrel. Natural gas prices have also surged.

Expensive energy products would add to accelerating wage growth in exerting upward pressure on inflation. The government reported last week that average hourly earnings increased by the most in seven months on a year-on-year basis in September because of worker shortages.

With the number of people voluntarily quitting their jobs hitting a record high in August and at least 10.4 million unfilled positions, wage inflation is set to rise further.

“The right place to look for inflation is not just in the so-called inflation data itself, but also in the tighter labor market and associated wage growth,” said Andrew Hollenhorst, chief U.S. economist at Citigroup in New York.

“Firms confident of passing on input costs may make higher energy prices a driver of broader inflation.”

September’s CPI report will have no impact on the Fed’s timeline to begin scaling back its massive monthly bond-buying program. The U.S. central bank signaled last month that it could start tapering its asset purchases as soon as November.

Economists expect that announcement will come at the Nov. 2-3 policy meeting.

“The central bank has already said that inflation has met the threshold for tapering, it’s the job market that hasn’t,” said Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics in West Chester, Pennsylvania. “The CPI could garner a reaction in the bond market as it could alter market expectations for the timing of the first rate hike by the Fed, which in our opinion, is still far off on the horizon.”

The Fed’s preferred inflation measure for its flexible 2% target, the core personal consumption expenditures price index, increased 3.6% in the 12 months through August, rising by the same margin for a third straight month. September’s data will be published later this month.

The Fed last month upgraded its core PCE inflation projection for this year to 3.7% from 3.0% in June.

Despite strong wage gains, high inflation is cutting into consumers’ purchasing power.

That, together with motor vehicle shortages, led economists to cut their gross domestic product estimates for the third quarter to as low as a 1.3% annualized rate from as high as a 7% pace. The International Monetary Fund on Tuesday slashed its 2021 U.S. growth forecast by a full percentage point, to 6.0% from 7.0% in July.

(Reporting by Lucia MutikaniEditing by Chizu Nomiyama)

U.S. consumer spending rises, but inflation eroding households purchasing power

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON(Reuters) – U.S. consumer spending surged in August, but outlays adjusted for inflation were weaker than initially thought in the prior month, reinforcing expectations that economic growth slowed in the third quarter as COVID-19 infections flared up.

The report from the Commerce Department on Friday, which showed inflation remaining hot in August, raised the risk of consumer spending stalling in the third quarter, even if consumption accelerates further in September. Inflation-adjusted, or the so-called real consumer spending is what goes into the calculation of gross domestic product.

“Third quarter consumer spending is on track for only a scant gain,” said Tim Quinlan, a senior economist at Wells Fargo in Charlotte, North Carolina. “If COVID cases keep falling and sentiment turns positive, there is scope for a more solid finish to this tumultuous year.”

Consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, rebounded 0.8% in August. Data for July was revised down to show spending dipping 0.1% instead of gaining 0.3% as previously reported.

Consumption was boosted by a 1.2% rise in purchases of goods, reflecting increases in spending on food and household supplies as well as recreational items, which offset a drop in motor vehicle outlays. A global shortage of semiconductors is undercutting the production of automobiles, hurting sales.

Goods spending fell 2.1% in July. Spending on services rose 0.6% in August, supported by housing, utilities and health care. Services, which account for the bulk of consumer spending, increased 1.1% in July. Spending is shifting back to services from goods, but the resurgence in coronavirus cases over summer, driven by the Delta variant, crimped demand for air travel and hotel accommodation as well as sales at restaurants and bars.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast consumer spending increasing 0.6% in August.

Inflation maintained its upward trend in August, though price pressures have probably peaked. The personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index, excluding the volatile food and energy components, climbed 0.3% after increasing by the same margin in July. In the 12 months through August, the so-called core PCE price index increased 3.6%, matching July’s gain.

The core PCE price index is the Federal Reserve’s preferred inflation measure for its flexible 2% target. The Fed last week upgraded its core PCE inflation projection for this year to 3.7% from 3.0% back in June. The central bank signaled interest rate hikes may follow more quickly than expected.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell, who has maintained that high inflation is transitory, told lawmakers on Thursday that he anticipated some relief in the months ahead.

Still, inflation could remain high for a while. A survey from the Institute for Supply Management on Friday showed manufacturers experienced longer delays getting raw materials delivered to factories and paid higher prices for inputs in September.

Stocks on Wall Street were mostly higher. The dollar fell against a basket of currencies. U.S. Treasury prices were mixed.

SLOWING GROWTH

High inflation is cutting into spending. Real consumer spending rose 0.4% in August. That followed a downwardly revised 0.5% drop in July, which was previously reported as a 0.1% dip. With the August and July data in hand, economists predicted that growth in consumer spending would probably brake to around a 1% annualized rate in the third quarter.

Consumer spending grew at a robust 12.0% annualized rate in the April-June quarter, accounting for much of the economy’s 6.7% growth pace. The level of GDP is now above its peak in the fourth quarter of 2019. In the wake of the consumer spending data, JPMorgan economists lowered their third-quarter GDP estimate to a 4.0% rate from a 5.0% pace.

Overall, the economy remains supported by record corporate profits. Households accumulated at least $2.5 trillion in excess savings during the pandemic. Coronavirus infections are trending down, which is already leading to a rise in demand for travel and other high-contact services. Businesses need to replenish depleted inventories, which will keep factories humming.

A third report on Friday from the University of Michigan showed consumer sentiment ticked higher for the first time in three months in September. But a survey from the Conference Board this week showed consumer confidence dropping to a seven-month low in September.

Though personal income gained only 0.2% in August after rising 1.1% in July as an increase in Child Tax Credit payments from the government was offset by decreases in unemployment insurance checks related to the pandemic, wages are rising as companies compete for scarce workers. Wages rose 0.5% in August, which should help to keep spending supported.

But inflation is eroding consumers’ purchasing power, with income at the disposal of households edging up 0.1% after increasing 1.1% in July. The saving rate fell to a still-high 9.4% from 10.1% in July.

“Households still have plenty left in the tank given rising employment and wages, soaring net worth and massive excess savings,” said Sal Guatieri, a senior economist at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto. “However, rising prices are eating into spending power, compounding the ongoing lack of supply.”

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Analysis: From chips to ships, shortages are making inflation stick

By Dhara Ranasinghe and Sujata Rao

LONDON (Reuters) – Soaring gas prices, staff shortages, a lack of ships — price pressures globally may be picking up faster than anticipated, challenging the view that inflation will prove transitory.

Central bankers, while adamant inflation will subside, are starting to concede it may stay higher for longer as a range of issues push up the prices of goods and services and lift future inflation expectations.

Their conclusions will ultimately determine how quickly policymakers unwind the trillions of dollars of monetary stimulus unleashed to ease the COVID-19 crisis.

“Will central bankers be more focused on growth and be a “bit behind the curve”? Or will they be more concerned about inflation and take the punchbowl away quickly?,” said Charles Diebel, head of fixed income at asset manager Mediolanum International Funds.

Here are five key elements in the inflation debate:

1/ GASFLATION

European and U.S. gas prices have soared more than 350% and more than 120% respectively this year. Oil is up around 50% and Goldman Sachs expects Brent crude to hit $90 a barrel by end-2021 from around $80 currently.

Gas and electricity make up 4.8% of the euro area harmonized-inflation (HICP) basket used by the European Central Bank. Rabobank reckons the price surge is a separate ‘shock’ that could add 0.15 percentage points (ppts) to its 2.2% euro zone inflation forecast for 2021 and another 0.25 ppts to 2022’s 1.8% projection.

Many economists see higher gas prices as here to stay, due to slowing U.S. output, rising costs of carbon emissions permits for polluters and curbs on the usage of dirtier fuels.

In China, where factory inflation hit 9.5% in August, power cuts have slashed output of goods from cement to aluminum.

These outages are a risk to end-users such as those in auto supply chains, Morgan Stanley said, noting “cost-push inflation and tightening upstream supply that could affect downstream production and profits.”

2/ CHIPFLATION

Semiconductors, or chips as they are known, are tiny but are having an outsized impact on global factories. At General Motors alone, chip shortages are seen cutting Q3 vehicle deliveries by 200,000, while falling output has sent used-car prices spiraling.

Chip prices have risen and semiconductor giant Taiwan’s TSMC is mulling further hikes of up to 20%. That will ripple across everything from electronics to cars and phones to washing machines. But chipmakers themselves face higher input costs from commodities to power.

“It does seem likely that these semiconductor shortages are going to persist into next year,” said Jack Allen-Reynolds, senior European economist at Capital Economics.

Or beyond. Intel’s CEO predicts chips will comprise a fifth of a car’s cost by 2030, from 4% in 2019 as vehicles become self-driving or electric.

3/ FOODFLATION

Global food prices rose 30% year-on-year in August, an index compiled by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization shows — a sign of broadening price pressures.

While higher agricultural commodity prices are behind the jump, JPMorgan analysts also attribute food price inflation to pandemic-related pressures such as logistics disruptions and transport costs.

In emerging markets, where food makes up a large chunk of inflation baskets, there is more pressure to tighten monetary policy. It is less of a problem for developed nations but price rises look inevitable for items such as soft drinks and snacks.

4/GREENFLATION

Stringent rules to guide the transition to a greener future are blamed for stoking ‘greenflation,’ for instance by shutting out polluting factories, vehicles, ships and mines, in turn reducing the supply of key goods and services.

Prices for European carbon emission allowances, have doubled this year to 65 euros a tonne. A price of 100 euros would lift European retail power prices 12%, adding 35 bps to headline euro zone inflation, Morgan Stanley estimated in June.

There are other examples. Falling ship orders due to upcoming rule changes on fuels may be a tailwind for shipping rates that have already surged 280% this year.

NatWest attributes the commodity rally at least partly to the shift to greener technologies raising mining and production costs.

All this may not fully have seeped into inflation calculations. For instance, markets see euro area inflation hitting 2% only after a decade, Danske Bank sees “upside risks to inflation expectations…once implementation of the green transition gathers momentum”.

5/ WAGEFLATION

As prices rise, so do expectations of future inflation among consumers, who accordingly demand pay hikes.

The carbon emission allowances picture is mixed. U.S average hourly earnings jumped 0.6% in August and U.S. five-year inflation expectations are running around 3%, surveys show.

In some UK sectors, earnings have risen as much as 30% this year. Euro area labor costs fell in Q2 but inflation as well as inflation expectations are rising.

“Maybe markets are a little bit extreme in their pricing, but I’m not recommending investors should fade that move,” Societe Generale senior rates strategist Jorge Garayo said.

“When we go into next year, that will be the big test.”

(Reporting by Dhara Ranasinghe and Sujata Rao; Additional reporting by Stefano Rebaudo ; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

Global supply disruptions could still get worse, central bankers warn

By Balazs Koranyi and Francesco Canepa

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Supply constraints thwarting global economic growth could still get worse, keeping inflation elevated longer, even if the current spike in prices is still likely to remain temporary, the world’s top central bankers warned on Wednesday.

The disruptions to the global economy during the pandemic have upset supply chains across continents, leaving the world short of a plethora of goods and services from car parts and microchips to container vessels that transport goods across the seas.

“It’s … frustrating to see the bottlenecks and supply chain problems not getting better, in fact at the margin apparently getting a little bit worse,” Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell told a conference.

“We see that continuing into next year probably and holding inflation up longer than we had thought,” Powell told the European Central Bank’s Forum on Central Banking.

Speaking alongside Powell, ECB chief Christine Lagarde voiced similar concerns, arguing that the end of these bottlenecks, once thought by economists to be just weeks away, is uncertain.

“The supply bottlenecks and the disruption of supply chains, which we have been experiencing for a few months … seem to be continuing and in some sectors accelerating,” Lagarde said. “I’m thinking here about shipping, cargo handling and things like that.”

VERY ATTENTIVE

Global inflation has spiked in recent months on a surge in energy prices, and the production bottlenecks are pushing prices even higher, raising fears that the runup, if it lasts long enough, could seep into expectations and raise the overall profile of inflation.

Indeed, Lagarde said the ECB would be “very attentive” to these second-round effects while Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey, another speaker at the forum, said he would keep a “very close watch” on inflation expectations.

“If this period of higher inflation, even though it ultimately is very likely to prove temporary, if it lasts long enough, will it start affecting, changing the way people think about inflation? We monitor this very carefully,” Powell added.

The problem is that central banks, the main authority for controlling prices, have no influence over short-term supply disruptions, so they are likely to be bystanders, waiting for economic anomalies to self-correct without lasting damage.

“Monetary policy cannot solve supply side shocks. Monetary policy cannot produce computer chips, it cannot produce wind, it cannot produce truck drivers,” Bailey said.

Still, even as policymakers called for heightened attention to inflation, all maintained their long standing view that the spike in inflation would be temporary and price rises would moderate next year, moving back to or below central bank targets.

Concerns about “sticky” inflation have fueled a debate about the need to unwind crisis-era stimulus measures, and comments from Wednesday’s panel reinforced expectations for the world’s biggest central banks to move on vastly different schedules, staying out of sync for years to come.

The Fed, the BoE and the Bank of Canada have openly discussed policy tightening while central banks in such countries as South Korea, Norway and Hungary have already raised interest rates, beginning a long road to policy normalization.

The ECB and the Bank of Japan are meanwhile likely to be the last movers, exercising extreme caution after undershooting their inflation targets for years.

The ECB even refuses to discuss tapering and already signaled its tolerance for overshooting its inflation target as it would rather move too late than too early.

This sort of patience was only reinforced by Lagarde and Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda, even as both provided a relatively upbeat outlook on growth, arguing that their economies could be back at their pre pandemic levels in the coming months.

(Additional reporting by Leika Kihara, Howard Schneider, Dan Burns, David Milliken and Andy Bruce; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Full Federal Reserve policy statement Sept 22, 2021

(Reuters) – Following is the full statement issued by the Federal Open Market Committee on Sept. 22, 2021:

The Federal Reserve is committed to using its full range of tools to support the U.S. economy in this challenging time, thereby promoting its maximum employment and price stability goals.

With progress on vaccinations and strong policy support, indicators of economic activity and employment have continued to strengthen. The sectors most adversely affected by the pandemic have improved in recent months, but the rise in COVID-19 cases has slowed their recovery. Inflation is elevated, largely reflecting transitory factors. Overall financial conditions remain accommodative, in part reflecting policy measures to support the economy and the flow of credit to U.S. households and businesses.

The path of the economy continues to depend on the course of the virus. Progress in vaccinations will likely continue to reduce the effects of the public health crisis on the economy, but risks to the economic outlook remain.

The Committee seeks to achieve maximum employment and inflation at the rate of 2 percent over the longer run. With inflation having run persistently below this longer-run goal, the Committee will aim to achieve inflation moderately above 2 percent for some time so that inflation averages 2 percent over time and longer‑term inflation expectations remain well anchored at 2 percent. The Committee expects to maintain an accommodative stance of monetary policy until these outcomes are achieved. The Committee decided to keep the target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to 1/4 percent and expects it will be appropriate to maintain this target range until labor market conditions have reached levels consistent with the Committee’s assessments of maximum employment and inflation has risen to 2 percent and is on track to moderately exceed 2 percent for some time. Last December, the Committee indicated that it would continue to increase its holdings of Treasury securities by at least $80 billion per month and of agency mortgage‑backed securities by at least $40 billion per month until substantial further progress has been made toward its maximum employment and price stability goals. Since then, the economy has made progress toward these goals. If progress continues broadly as expected, the Committee judges that a moderation in the pace of asset purchases may soon be warranted. These asset purchases help foster smooth market functioning and accommodative financial conditions, thereby supporting the flow of credit to households and businesses.

In assessing the appropriate stance of monetary policy, the Committee will continue to monitor the implications of incoming information for the economic outlook. The Committee would be prepared to adjust the stance of monetary policy as appropriate if risks emerge that could impede the attainment of the Committee’s goals. The Committee’s assessments will take into account a wide range of information, including readings on public health, labor market conditions, inflation pressures and inflation expectations, and financial and international developments.

Voting for the monetary policy action were Jerome H. Powell, Chair; John C. Williams, Vice Chair; Thomas I. Barkin; Raphael W. Bostic; Michelle W. Bowman; Lael Brainard; Richard H. Clarida; Mary C. Daly; Charles L. Evans; Randal K. Quarles; and Christopher J. Waller.

U.S. consumer confidence falls to 6-month low; house prices post record gains

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. consumer confidence fell to a six-month low in August as concerns about soaring COVID-19 infections and higher inflation dampened the outlook for the economy.

The survey from the Conference Board on Tuesday also showed consumers were less upbeat about the labor market. They were less inclined to buy a home and big-ticket items like motor vehicles and major household appliances over the next six months, supporting the view that consumer spending will cool in the third quarter after two straight quarters of double-digit growth.

Still, more consumers planned to go on vacation, indicating a rotation in spending from goods to services was underway as economic activity continues to normalize following the upheaval caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Increased spending on services, which account for the bulk of economic activity, should keep a floor under consumer spending.

“While the resurgence of COVID-19 and inflation concerns have dampened confidence, it is too soon to conclude this decline will result in consumers significantly curtailing their spending in the months ahead,” said Lynn Franco, senior director of economic indicators at the Conference Board in Washington.

It mirrored the University of Michigan’s survey of consumers, which showed sentiment tumbling in August because of rising prices for goods like food and gasoline, as well as the resurgence in COVID-19 cases that has been driven by the Delta variant of the coronavirus.

The Conference Board’s so-called labor market differential, derived from data on respondents’ views on whether jobs are plentiful or hard to get, slipped to 42.8 this month from 44.1 in July. This measure closely correlates to the unemployment rate in the Labor Department’s closely watched employment report.

Fewer households intended to buy long-lasting manufactured goods such as motor vehicles and household appliances like washing machines and clothes dryers, the survey showed. But the share of consumers planning to go on vacations rose, with most expecting to travel domestically and many intending to fly to their destinations. That should help to offset the drag from reduced spending on goods.

Despite the anticipated slowdown, the foundation for consumer spending remains strong, with households sitting on at least $2.5 trillion in excess savings accumulated during the pandemic. Gross domestic product growth estimates for the third quarter are around a 5% annualized rate. The economy grew at a 6.6% pace in the second quarter.

Stocks on Wall Street were trading mostly lower after recent strong gains. The dollar was largely flat against a basket of currencies. U.S. Treasury prices were lower.

HOME PRICES JUMP

The Conference Board survey also showed less enthusiasm among consumers for home purchases over the next six months amid higher house prices, which are sidelining some first-time buyers from the market.

Demand for housing soared early in the pandemic as Americans sought more spacious accommodations for home offices and home schooling, but supply severely lagged, fueling house price growth. COVID-19 vaccinations have allowed some employers to recall workers to offices. Schools and universities have reopened for in-person learning.

A separate report on Tuesday showed the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller national home price index jumped a record 18.6% in June from a year ago after rising 16.8% in May. Economists, however, believe that house price inflation has peaked, with homes becoming less affordable especially for first-time buyers.

“Some early data suggests that the buyer frenzy experienced this spring is tapering, though many buyers still remain in the market,” said Selma Hepp, deputy chief economist at CoreLogic. “Nevertheless, less competition and more for-sale homes suggest we may be seeing the peak of home price acceleration. Going forward, home price growth may ease off but stay in the double digits through year-end.”

A separate report from the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) showed its house price index rose a record 18.8% in the 12 months through June. House prices surged 17.4% in the second quarter compared to the same period in 2020. FHFA believes house prices peaked in June.

The FHFA index is calculated by using purchase prices of houses financed with mortgages sold to or guaranteed by mortgage finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao)

U.S. consumer sentiment plummets in early August to decade low

By Evan Sully and Lindsay Dunsmuir

(Reuters) -U.S. consumer sentiment dropped sharply in early August to its lowest level in a decade, in a worrying sign for the economy as Americans gave faltering outlooks on everything from personal finances to inflation and employment, a survey showed on Friday.

The unexpected reading could give Federal Reserve policymakers pause if it translates in the months ahead to a dent in economic activity. The central bank has been getting closer to a decision on when to begin pulling back the extraordinary stimulus it put in place to shield the economy from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The University of Michigan said its preliminary consumer sentiment index fell to 70.2 in the first half of this month from a final reading of 81.2 in July. That was the lowest level since 2011, and there have been only two larger declines in the index over the past 50 years. Those were at the depths of the 2007-2009 recession and during the first wave of shutdowns in April 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic.

The losses were widespread across income, age, and education subgroups and spanned all regions. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the index would remain unchanged at 81.2.

U.S. stock market indexes slipped immediately after the report was released, while the price of gold gained ground. U.S. Treasury bond yields hit session lows.

“The renewed plunge suggests the latest wave of virus cases driven by the Delta variant could be a bigger drag on the economy than we had thought,” said Andrew Hunter, an economist at Capital Economics.

Economic growth is still expected to grow this year at its fastest pace in four decades after falling into a brief recession in 2020 caused by the coronavirus pandemic. But the recovery is showing some indication of cooling off.

COVID-19 cases have doubled in the past two weeks to reach a six-month peak as the more transmissible Delta variant spreads rapidly across the country. Labor shortages across the service sector also persist while supply chain disruptions have continued.

“The pandemic’s resurgence due to the Delta variant has been met with a mixture of reason and emotion…mainly from dashed hopes that the pandemic would soon end,” Richard Curtin, the survey director, said in a statement.

The survey’s gauge of current economic conditions also declined to a reading of 77.9 from 84.5 in July while its measure of consumer expectations slid to 65.2 from 79.0 in July.

The survey also showed consumers raising their expectations for medium term inflation, another measure the central bank is closely monitoring to ensure that inflation expectations remain anchored.

The survey’s one-year inflation expectation edged lower to 4.6%, down from 4.7%, but its five-year inflation outlook ticked up to 3.0% from 2.8% in July.

Consumer price increases slowed in July, the Labor Department said on Wednesday, but inflation overall remained at a historically high level amid lingering supply-chain disruptions and stronger demand for travel-related services.

(Reporting by Evan Sully and Lindsay Dunsmuir; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Fed’s Waller: ‘Go early and go fast’ on taper

By Ann Saphir

(Reuters) – Federal Reserve Governor Christopher Waller on Monday said the U.S. central bank could start to reduce its support for the economy by October if the next two monthly jobs reports each show employment rising by 800,000 to 1 million, as he expects.

“We should go early and go fast, in order to make sure we’re in position to raise rates in 2022, if we have to,” Waller said in an interview on CNBC, adding that he could see the Fed announcing a reducing in its monthly bond purchases in September and a start to that reduction in October.

And once the Fed begins the process, Waller said, “There’s no reason you’d want to go slow on the taper, to prolong it – you want to get it done and get it over.”

The Fed is buying $80 billion in Treasuries and $40 billion in mortgage-backed securities each month to help push downward on borrowing costs and speed the recovery. It has said it will continue to make purchases at that pace until the economy makes “substantial further progress” toward the Fed’s goals of full employment and 2% inflation.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell said last week the job market recovery is still “a ways off” from the point where it would be appropriate for the Fed to start paring its bond purchases.

Speaking Friday, Fed Governor Lael Brainard echoed that sentiment, indicating in a speech Friday that she would want to have data from the September jobs report – not available until early October — to make such a decision.

To Waller, an increase of some 1.6 million to 2 million jobs in July and August would mean that the economy will have regained 85% of its job losses, Waller said. That, in his view, meets the “substantial further progress” bar for tapering.

The government is due to release its July report on Friday, and economists estimate it will show U.S. employers added about 880,000 jobs last month.

Waller’s former boss, St. Louis Fed President James Bullard, on Friday also called for the Fed to begin reducing its bond-buying by the fall.

Most on Wall Street have been expecting the taper to start late in 2021 or in 2022.

Waller said he does not believe the Delta variant of the coronavirus will “sideline” the economy. He added that while he believes the recent hot readings on inflation will subside later in the year, there’s “upside risk” to that expectation.

(Reporting by Ann Saphir; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Nick Zieminski)

Biden says inflation temporary; Fed should do what it deems necessary for recovery

By Steve Holland and Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden on Monday said an increase in prices was expected to be temporary, but his administration understood that unchecked inflation over the longer term would pose a “real challenge” to the economy and would remain vigilant.

Biden said he told Federal Reserve Board Chair Jerome Powell recently that the Fed was independent and should take whatever steps it deems necessary to support a strong, durable recovery.

“As our economy comes roaring back, we’ve seen some price increases,” Biden said, while rejecting concerns the recent increases could be a sign of persistent inflation.

He said his administration was doing all it could to address supply chain bottlenecks that had pushed up the price of cars, and noted that lumber prices were now easing after spiking higher early in the recovery.

“I want to be clear: my administration understands that were we ever to experience unchecked inflation in the long term, that would pose a real challenge for our economy,” he said. “While we’re confident that isn’t what we’re seeing today, we’re going to remain vigilant about any response that is needed.”

Biden said he had also made that point clear to Powell: “The Fed is independent. It should take whatever steps it deems necessary to support a strong, durable economic recovery.”

Growing concerns about inflation dragged U.S. consumer sentiment in early July to its lowest level in five months, a survey showed Friday, after a 0.9% jump in consumer prices in June, the biggest increase in 13 years, but economists continue to believe that higher inflation is transitory.

The Democratic president said his plans to invest more in infrastructure, as well as better care for older people and children, would help reduce inflationary pressures in the future by boosting productivity.

“These steps will enhance our productivity, raising wages without raising prices,” he said. “It will take the pressure off of inflation, give a boost to our workforce which leads to lower prices in the years ahead.”

He said critics had warned repeatedly that his economic policies would lead to an end to capitalism, but economists were now predicting the United States would hit its highest economic growth rate in 40 years.

“It turns out capitalism is alive and very well,” he said. “We’re making serious progress to ensure that it works the way it’s supposed to work for the good of the American people.”

(Reporting by Steve Holland and Andrea Shalal; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

Fed’s Powell keeps to script on jobs recovery, feels heat on inflation front

By Howard Schneider

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell on Wednesday pledged “powerful support” to complete the U.S. economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, but faced sharp questions from Republican lawmakers concerned about recent spikes in inflation.

In testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives Financial Services Committee, Powell said he is confident recent price hikes are associated with the country’s post-pandemic reopening and will fade, and that the Fed should stay focused on getting as many people back to work as possible.

Any move to reduce support for the economy, by first slowing the U.S. central bank’s $120 billion in monthly bond purchases, is “still a ways off,” Powell said, with millions of people who were working before the crisis still to be pulled back into the labor force.

“The high inflation readings are for a small group of goods and services directly tied to the reopening,” Powell testified, language that indicated he saw no need to rush the shift towards post-pandemic policy.

Representative Ann Wagner, a Republican from Missouri, challenged that conclusion, relaying what’s likely to be a refrain from lawmakers as long as inflation continues to rise: their constituents are getting worried.

At a prior hearing in February “you reiterated that price spikes were temporary. I can tell you that the families and businesses I represent are not feeling that these price spikes are temporary,” Wagner said.

“The incoming data have been higher than expected and hoped for but are still consistent” with a temporary bout of higher prices, Powell responded.

“It is housing, appliances, food prices, gas,” Wagner retorted, a sign of what could become growing political pressure on the Fed to get tougher on inflation if the spikes in prices continue.

Representative Anthony Gonzalez, a Republican from Ohio, took aim at a new Fed framework that aims to encourage higher employment by letting inflation run “moderately” above the central bank’s 2% target “for some time”

“How long is ‘some time’?” Gonzalez asked, arguing that the Fed’s current policies may be doing little to encourage employment at a time when employers are already posting record numbers of jobs.

“It depends,” Powell said, demonstrating the dilemma he faces if prices continue rising. “Right now inflation is well above 2%. … The question for the (Federal Open Market) Committee will be where does this leave us in six months.”

U.S. Treasury yields fell after the release of Powell’s prepared testimony earlier on Wednesday and remained lower even though prices of factory inputs rose at a higher-than-expected pace in June, an indication markets construed his comments as a sign the monetary taps will stay open.

Powell’s remarks were notable as well for excluding any mention of risks to the recovery from the coronavirus Delta variant, with the Fed chief saying the central bank expects strong upcoming job gains “as public health conditions continue to improve.”

The Fed’s June meeting saw officials begin a move towards post-pandemic policy, with some of them poised to tighten financial conditions sooner to ensure inflation remains contained. Renewed coronavirus-related risks, if they materialize, could push the Fed in the other direction of keeping support for the recovery in place longer in case household and business spending wane amid a rise in new infections.

Falling Treasury bond yields have indicated concern among investors about slowing U.S. economic growth, even as new data on prices this week showed consumers paying appreciably more for an array of goods and services, including appliances, fabric, beef and rent.

In a report to Congress last week, the Fed said that as the “extraordinary circumstances” of the reopening subside, “supply and demand should become better aligned, and inflation is widely expected to move down.”

RISING DELTA

While each month of high inflation makes it harder to stick to that conviction, Powell for now is keeping to the Fed’s core narrative of a job market that still needs massive help from the central bank to restore it to its pre-pandemic health and minimize the long-term damage from a historic, virus-driven calamity.

The Fed has said it will not reduce its bond-buying program absent “substantial further progress” in regaining the roughly 7.5 million jobs still missing since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, a threshold policymakers feel will likely be met later this year.

That hinges, however, on continued reopening of the economy, recovery in the travel, leisure and other “social” industries devastated by the health crisis, and the willingness of currently unemployed or homebound individuals to fill the record number of jobs on offer.

When Powell last spoke about the economy at a news briefing after the end of the June 15-16 policy meeting, new daily coronavirus infections were falling toward recent lows, and the Fed dropped language from its policy statement that the pandemic “continues to weigh on the economy.”

Since then the Delta variant has pushed the seven-day moving average of cases from 11,000 to above 21,000, and health officials are concerned about the spread of the variant in parts of the country where vaccination rates are low. The numbers are more ominous globally.

Powell is scheduled to appear before the U.S. Senate Banking Committee at 9:30 a.m. (1330 GMT) on Thursday.

(Reporting by Howard Schneider; Editing by Dan Burns, Andrea Ricci and Paul Simao)