May 25, 2024
The Fed’s Preferred Inflation Measure Cooled in June

The Fed’s Preferred Inflation Measure Cooled in June

The Federal Reserve’s preferred inflation gauge cooled in June even as consumer spending chugged along more quickly than economists had expected.

The data illustrate that the economy retains substantial momentum 16 months into the central bank’s campaign to slow it down. That could improve the chances of a soft landing — in which inflation comes down without a recession — though Fed officials have been clear that it is too early to feel confident that inflation will slow completely.

The Personal Consumption Expenditures index climbed 3 percent in the year through June, data released Friday showed, in line with what economists had expected. That was a slowdown from 3.8 percent the month before.

After stripping out food and fuel — both of which jump around — a core inflation index climbed by 4.1 percent, slightly less than economists had expected. That measure had picked up by 4.6 percent in May.

Inflation has been gradually slowing down in recent months, good news for consumers and for Fed officials, who have been raising interest rates to try to cool the economy and wrestle price increases back under control. Policymakers lifted rates to a 5.25 to 5.5 percent range this week, the highest level since 2001, and signaled that they are open to doing more if incoming data suggest that inflation is likely to last.

The economy has held up even as price increases begin to slow — partially fueled by consumers, who have continued to spend even as it becomes more expensive to borrow for a car or credit card purchase. The report on Friday showed that personal consumption spending picked up by 0.4 percent in June from the previous month after adjusting for inflation, more than the 0.3 percent that economists had expected.

Slowing inflation and solid economic data have combined to stoke a growing sense of optimism among economists: It seems increasingly likely that the Fed might be able to cool the economy just enough to bring inflation under control without hurting it so much that America plunges into a recession. The Fed’s staff even revised its forecast at the central bank’s meeting this week, and is not longer calling for a downturn this year.

Policymakers remain watchful, because the same resilience that is encouraging optimism now could lay the groundwork for stubborn inflation later. If companies can continue to raise prices because their customers are in good financial shape and are able and willing to pay more without pulling back, it could keep inflation more rapid than is typical.

“The overall resilience of the economy — the fact that we’ve been able to achieve disinflation so far” is “a good thing,” Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, said during a news conference this week. Still, “at the margin stronger growth could lead, over time, to higher inflation, and that would require an appropriate response from monetary policy.”

Much of the recent disinflation has come as unusual shifts that took place during and after the pandemic have slowly faded. Supply chain disruptions have healed, allowing a pop in the price of goods like furniture to disappear. Prices for new cars, which were so scarce that they increased sharply in price, are finally cooling.

And after plummeting at the start of the pandemic and then surging back, airfares and hotel prices are growing at a more normal pace, which is also helping inflation to cool.

Gas prices have also moderated in recent months, which has helped to lower overall inflation. But they have risen in recent days amid a major refinery shutdown, a trend that could slow future disinflation if it persists into August.

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