There are lies, damn lies, and government inflation statistics. From Wolf Richter at wolfstreet.com:
Fed officials, economists “surprised” by surge in CPI inflation, but we’ve seen it for months, including “scary-crazy” inflation in some corners.
The Consumer Price Index jumped 0.8% in April from March, after having jumped 0.6% in March from February – both the sharpest month-to-month jumps since 2009 – and after having jumped 0.4% in February, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics today. For the three months combined, CPI has jumped by 1.7%, or by 7.0% “annualized.” So that’s what we’re looking at: 7% CPI inflation and accelerating.
Consumer price inflation is the politically correct way of saying the consumer dollar – everything denominated in dollars for consumers, such as their labor – is losing purchasing power. And the purchasing power of the “consumer dollar” plunged by 1.1% in April from March, or 12% “annualized,” according to BLS data. From record low to record low. Over the past three months, the purchasing power of the consumer dollars has plunged by 2.1%, the biggest three-month drop since 2007. “Annualized,” over those three months, the purchasing power of the dollar dropped at an annual rate of 8.4%:
Inflation is in the ascendancy, thanks to nonstop debt monetization since the end of 2019. From Tyler Durden at zerohedge.com:
After March’s blowout 0.6% MoM surge in headline CPI, analysts expected a modest slowdown MoM, but surge YoY due to the base-effect comps from April 2020’s collapse. However, it appears analyst massively underestimated as headline CPI surged 0.8% MoM (4 times the +0.2% expected) and exploded 4.2% YoY. That is the biggest YoY jump since Sept 2008 (and biggest MoM jump since June 2008)
Core CPI was expected to rise by the most this millennia, but it was hotter than that. The index for all items less food and energy rose 3.0% over the past 12 months; this was its largest 12-month increase since January 1996… and the MoM jump of 0.92% is the biggest since 1981
It’s a comforting notion to many people, the idea that wise bureaucrats can manage something as complicated as the economy. Too bad they can’t do it. From Jim Grant at schiffgold.com:
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell insists inflation is “transitory.” As prices have spiked throughout the economy, Powell’s messaging has essentially been, “Move along. Nothing to see here.”
Peter Schiff has been saying the central bankers at the Fed can’t actually tell the truth about inflation because even if they acknowledge it’s a problem (and it is) they can’t do anything about it.
In a recent talk, Jim Grant, investment guru and founder of Grant’s Interest Rate Observer, echoed Peter, saying the Fed can’t control inflation.
During a webcast sponsored by State Street SPDR ETFs, Grant said he thinks “there’s a gale of inflation of all kinds in progress,” adding that he believes it will take the Fed by surprise and “overwhelm our monetary masters.” Grant said, inflation is “clear and present and will manifest itself in our everyday lives.”
That sounds like the exact opposite of Powell’s “transitory” mantra.
Peter has said that once the Fed is forced to admit that inflation isn’t transitory, it will be too late to take action. Grant made a similar prediction, saying inflation will “catch the Fed flatfooted. In response it will “prevaricate” – meaning speak or act in an evasive way. In fact, that already seems to be the central bank’s strategy.
The question is can the Fed actually control inflation. Grant doesn’t think so.
I think the Fed is under the misconception that it controls events. Sometimes, events control the Fed, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this was one of those times. The Fed thinks that not only can it control events, but it can measure them. It believes it can pinpoint the rate of inflation.”
Given the copious amounts of debt the Federal Reserve has monetized, rising prices are inevitable. From Bruce Wilds at brucewilds.blogspot.com:
The monster known as inflation has been unleashed upon the world and will not easily retreat into the night. This is reflected in soaring commodity and housing prices. Due to the stupid and self-serving policies of the Fed, we are about to experience a massive shift in the way we live. Bubbling up to the surface is also the recognition the Fed has played a major role in pushing inequality higher. This means that inflation is about to devour the purchasing power of our income and the savings of those that have worked hard and saved over the years.
Over the months we have watched Fed Chairman Jerome Powell time and time again cut rates and increase the Fed’s balance sheet. This has hurt savers, forced investors into risky investments in search of yield, damaged the dollar, encouraged politicians to spend like drunken sailors, and increased inequality. The greatest wealth transfer in history has already begun and the next crisis will only accelerate the process. Sadly, the same policies that dump huge money into larger businesses because it is an easier and faster way to bolster the economy give these concerns a huge advantage over their smaller competitors.
For decades the American people have watched their incomes lag behind the cost of living. To make matters worse, the official numbers of the so-called Consumer Price Index (CPI) have been rigged to understate inflation and not to reflect the true impact it was having on our lives. Want to know where the real cost of things is going, just look at the replacement cost from recent storms and natural disasters. Currently, the government understates inflation by using a formula based on the concept of a “constant level of satisfaction” that evolved during the first half of the 20th century in academia. This has skewed expectations and led many people to think inflation is not something they need to worry about.
Perhaps we’ll eat less, or eat lower quality food. Inflation is showing up at the grocery stores big time, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to be “transitory.” From Michael Snyder at theeconomiccollapseblog.com:
Did you know that the price of corn has risen 142 percent in the last 12 months? Of course corn is used in hundreds of different products we buy at the grocery store, and so everyone is going to feel the pain of this price increase. But it isn’t just the price of corn that is going crazy. We are seeing food prices shoot up dramatically all across the industry, and experts are warning that this is just the very beginning. So if you think that food prices are bad now, just wait, because they are going to get a whole lot worse.
Typically, Americans spend approximately 10 percent of their disposable personal incomes on food. The following comes directly from the USDA website…
In 2019, Americans spent an average of 9.5 percent of their disposable personal incomes on food—divided between food at home (4.9 percent) and food away from home (4.6 percent). Between 1960 and 1998, the average share of disposable personal income spent on total food by Americans, on average, fell from 17.0 to 10.1 percent, driven by a declining share of income spent on food at home.
Needless to say, the poorest Americans spend more of their incomes on food than the richest Americans.
According to the USDA, the poorest households spent an average of 36 percent of their disposable personal incomes on food in 2019…
As their incomes rise, households spend more money on food, but it represents a smaller overall budget share. In 2019, households in the lowest income quintile spent an average of $4,400 on food (representing 36.0 percent of income), while households in the highest income quintile spent an average of $13,987 on food (representing 8.0 percent of income).
Massive debt monetization, the font of inflation, will continue far into the future. From Simon Black at sovereignman.com:
There is no worse investment on the planet right now than longer-term bonds. If something else doesn’t upset the apple cart first, rising interest rates will raze the financial house of cards, to mix metaphors. From Alasdair Macleod at goldmoney.com:
There is a growing recognition in financial circles that price inflation will increase significantly in the near future, and official estimates that it will be a temporary phenomenon limited to an average of 2% are overly optimistic. There is, therefore, increasing speculation about the need for interest rates to rise.
The bond yield on 10-year US Treasuries has already more than doubled over the last year. It is in the nature of market cycles for equity and other financial assets to continue to rise in value during an initial increase in bond yields. It is the second increase that can be expected to turn bullish optimism about the economic outlook into the beginning of a bear market. Financial markets, already dislocated from fundamental realities, appear to be acutely vulnerable to such a change in sentiment.
This article points out that equity markets are driven more by money flows rather than perceived economic prospects. Bank credit for industry is contracting, commodity prices are soaring, and supply chains remain disrupted. Fuelled by earlier expansions of money supply and further expansions to come, the world faces a far larger increase in price inflation than currently contemplated, and therefore far higher interest rates, threatening to destabilise both financial markets and fiat currencies.
There is a rustling in the undergrowth, disturbing the sylvan setting where we complacently enjoy the dappled sunlight, innocently unaware of the prowling bear. The bear heralds another rise in bond yields as we grapple with the inflationary consequences of recent and current events.
This is a pretty good summary of this weekend’s Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting and Warren Buffet’s words of wisdom for those who don’t have a day to sit through the video. Note well Buffet’s words on inflation, there’s nobody with a better view of the entire economy. From Tyler Durden at zerohedge.com:
We already touched on two of the more colorful exchanges from Saturday’s Berkshire annual videoconference, both of which incidentally starred the traditionally far more outspoken Charlie Munger, who first crushed a generation’s monetary dreams saying that today’s Millennials will have “a hell of a time getting rich compared to our generation”, and then infuriated tens of millions of cryptofans and diamond hands (such as Dan Loeb) when he said that “the whole damn development” of crytpocurrencies “is disgusting and contrary to the interests of civilization.”
Yet while those two incidents may prompt the most Monday morning watercooler talk, what was most relevant from a macro and markets standpoint was Buffett’s observation of something the Fed and Treasury are terrified to admit: that a tidal wave of inflation has been unleashed upon the US and it’s only getting worse.
Speaking to Berkshire’s millions of shareholders on Saturday, Buffett said that he was surprised by the “red hot” US economic rebound and warned the company was being hit by inflationary pressures.
“We’re seeing very substantial inflation,” the 90-year-old billionaire who apparently does not have a Fed charge card, said in his nearly 6 hour long address to investors. But it’s what he said that was especially ominous: “It’s very interesting. We’re raising prices. People are raising prices to us and it’s being accepted.”
The only thing dumber than believing that inflation is running at less than 2 percent is putting your money where your lack of brains is and buying the guaranteed loss certificate known as a 10-year treasury note. It nominally yields 1.6 percent and it’s real yield will be negative after inflation and taxes. From Wolf Richter at wolfstreet.com:
Smaller companies too: Boots-on-the-ground view of surging costs in the roofing manufacturing industry. The Fed will brush it off as “temporary,” but the inflationary mindset has set in.
Big companies, such as Procter & Gamble, have used their earnings calls to prepare investors, customers, and consumers for what is coming: Surging input costs are creating hefty margin pressures, and companies are confident they can regain their margins by passing on those surging costs by implementing large price increases. Smaller companies face the same scenario of surging input cost and margin pressures.
Todd Miller, President of Classic Metal Roofing Systems, which manufactures metal shingles in the US, sent me an email today where he goes into detail as to what his industry, and the broader home remodeling industry, is facing, in terms of surging costs, shipping issues, and supply constraints. This is Todd Miller, a long-time reader and supporter of Wolf Street:
“Our industry is dealing with supply chain shortages as well as rapidly increasing prices. While we have not had to go to this extreme yet on the types of specialized products we produce, I have seen the selling prices of “commodity-based” metal roofs increase by 30% over the last six months, with additional increases projected.
“We’re also seeing the industry-leading asphalt shingle market in a pickle. Prices are going up, manufacturers have distributors and contractors on allocation, and lead times of 30 weeks are being reported. We’re also seeing the industry cut back on product offerings.
“The end result is we have a very robust remodeling and construction market, with limited product availability and spiraling prices. Everyone is aware of the lumber issues, but we’re also hearing of major issues with windows, doors, and siding products.
“As a metal roofing manufacturer, here are some of the raw material increases we have experienced over the past six months:
- Unpainted aluminum: up 15%
- Unpainted galvanized steel: up 57%
- Coatings used on our products: up 10%
- Corrugated packaging: up 15% on average
- Lumber for packaging: up 34%
- Fasteners: up 5 to 8%.
Turn financial markets into casinos and investment becomes nothing more than gamling. From Charles Hugh Smith at oftwominds.com:
It’s all so pathetic, isn’t it? The only way left to get ahead in America is to leverage up the riskiest gambles.
It’s painfully obvious that the only way left to get ahead in America is crazy-risky speculation, but nobody seems to even notice this stark and stunning reality. Why are people piling into crazy-risky bets on speculative vehicles like Gamestop and Dogecoin? The obvious answer is because others have reaped a decade or two of wages in a few weeks, and skimming a couple hundred thousand dollars in a few weeks or months is the only way an average wage earner is going to be able to buy a house, fund a retirement account, afford to have a family, etc.
Look at the reality of wage stagnation: I made $12 an hour in 1986, and I wasn’t some highly paid techno-guru or Wall Street shill. $12 an hour was an OK wage in 1986 but it wasn’t fantastic. Now 35 years later, $12 is still an OK wage. A lot of people make less than $12/hour.
But what happened to the cost of healthcare, housing, childcare and everything else required to have a family in those 35 years? These costs have exploded higher. It was already a stretch to buy a house in 1986 making $12/hour, but now–are you joking? Depending on the region, the cost of a modest house has tripled or gone up five-fold or even ten-fold in the past 35 years.