Economist Bill Conerly wrote last week on forbes.com: "Inflation is likely to remain mild in the next two years, but first a caution: none of the inflation forecasting models is doing a good job these days."
Neither is the official federal measure of "core inflation."
And lots of sticker-shocked U.S. grocery shoppers would dispute that inflation can "remain mild" - as if it has been mild. Some of those folks would even use un-mild terms to express their disagreement with that assessment of U.S. prices.
Yet the official core inflation rate in the federal Consumer Price Index was a mere 1.66 percent in March over March 2013 (April's numbers won't be released until next week). The figures for January and February were 1.62 percent and 1.57 percent, respectively.
Why are those core inflation rates so low - and so at odds with grocery-checkout reality?
Do the math: Food prices aren't included in the core-inflation-rate formula.
Neither are energy prices.
The rationale for their omissions: Prices for food and energy fluctuate so sharply that excluding them from the equation presumably produces a more accurate measure of inflation. And as that theory goes, if food and fuel prices maintain a steep climb, they will inevitably be reflected in other prices included in a core inflation level that offers a more stable measure of consumer prices.
Many experts evidently buy that reasoning. But to many folks who buy food and fuel, it sounds like a bum steer.
For instance, the Los Angeles Times recently reported: "Beef prices have reached all-time highs in the U.S. and aren't expected to come down any time soon."
Produce prices are up, too.
Analysts cite extended drought conditions throughout much of the U.S. West and South as the driving force behind the sustained beef-cost boost. As the price of cattle feed has risen, the U.S. cattle population has fallen to its lowest level - about 87 million - in more than half a century. You don't need an economics degree to know that marketplace forces push prices up when supply drops and demand doesn't.
However, the escalating price of beef isn't the meat of our nation's long-term inflation jeopardy. If - or is that when? - soaring food and fuel prices pull up other costs enough to spike the core-inflation rate, Federal Reserve officials will feel pressure to impose money-tightening measures aimed at slowing the economy - an ominous prospect in a still all-too-"jobless" recovery.
Meanwhile, the cost of a gallon of regular gasoline in the U.S. increased for 12 straight weeks to $3.65 (16 cents higher than it was a year ago at the same point) until taking a slight dip last week. And that small reduction is of limited consolation at the pump.
So is that misleadingly low official core inflation rate.
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