Is Inflation Rising or Falling?
Check this Chart to find out:
This chart plots the Longterm Annual Inflation Rate starting in 1989. The longer-term trend is falling.
Note the declining Long Term Linear Regression line. The 6.29% peak in October of 1990 was followed by the Oil Peak in July 2008 of “only” 5.60%, followed by successively lower peaks. Going back further (not shown), inflation peaked in March 1980 at 14.76%.
In 2020, just as we thought Inflation might break out of the channel to the upside, the virus crash brought inflation back within the downward channel. Then in 2021, inflation came roaring back to explode out of the channel to the upside.
IF the 5.39% of June 2021 remains as the peak, it will still be lower than the 5.60% Oil Peak of July 2008, which was lower than the October 1990 peak at 6.29%, so the trend will still be down. However, if inflation makes another run-up above 5.60%, that could indicate a trend change.
Long Term Inflation Chart since 1989
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Data Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI-U
Current Annual Inflation Commentary
The Current Annual inflation Rate for the 12 months ending in August was 5.25%, slightly below July’s 5.37%, which was virtually identical to June’s 5.39%.
This followed the run-up from December 2020’s 1.36%. February was 1.68%, March was 2.62%, April was 4.16%, and May was 4.99%.
So inflation is still almost QUADRUPLE December’s rate.
August’s monthly inflation was 0.21%, down slightly from 0.32% in 2020.
Previously, the FED had been concerned with a market meltdown due to falling oil prices and the Coronavirus. So, the FED embarked on a massive money creation scheme of Quantitative Easing (QE4). Although June 2020 saw a reduction in FED Assets, beginning in July, the FED began gradually increasing assets again. (See FED Actions below).
Historically, if inflation climbs toward 3%, the FED gets worried, which generally results in raising the FED funds rate. If inflation reaches 5%, people start to worry and may spend faster, increasing the velocity of money, which can further fan the flames of inflation.
On the other hand, if inflation falls below 1%, it sparks deflationary fears and quantitative easing. (Although if low inflation results from increased productivity, it should be no cause for concern).
In the following chart, we look at a bit shorter-term (i.e., since 2000) and we see that although in the longer-term chart above there was a downward channel since 1989, in this chart, there was more of a “Pennant” formation (i.e., less volatility centering around about 1.4%). The COVID deflationary pressures caused the inflation rate in April 2020 to break below the previous “pennant” support, causing a new support line to be drawn, widening the pennant point and shifting the center down. Then in April 2021, inflation crossed above the upper resistance of the pennant (dashed line). We have redrawn the upper line at the new peak, so the pennant shape is much less obvious.
In February, we said, “When the March and April 2021 numbers come out, we could easily see a breakout to the upside. But Congress is pushing a 1.9 Trillion stimulus package. This could result in massive inflation since there is no crash to absorb all that excess liquidity. The question will be if the stock market inflates or consumer prices inflate instead.” As of this writing, it appears that we are getting both higher prices and a boosted stock market, although the Summer doldrums have stagnated the market as well. And the FED has cut back on its money creation as we will see below.
(click on chart for larger image)
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Data Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI-U
Inflation Since 2010
The downtrend on the chart since 2010 no longer exists! Up until this month, the linear regression line was still tilted slightly downward. But the current upward spike has started to drag it upward. So looking only at this chart it is hard to believe that the long-term trend was down. Which could indicate the beginning of a different trend and that April 2015 was the bottom.
Typically during an election year, we can expect the FED not to try any “heavy-handed” actions because they don’t want to appear to favor either party. However, in 2020, they created a massive stimulus through Quantitative Easing (QE) by increasing “Assets”. This was due to fears of the Coronavirus and falling oil prices early in the year. Asset “creation” continued through November and fell slightly in December. Then in 2021, without deflationary pressures, Congress continued to push for more “stimulus” despite the FED’s reluctance to go along. Ultimately, Congress got their way, and now inflation is spiking. Interestingly, FED Chairman Jerome Powell said in March that inflation was “transitory” and NOT a problem. If the peak holds at 5.39%, perhaps he was correct. However, with the extremely low monthly inflation numbers in the 4th quarter of 2020, we will need some very low numbers in 2021 for that to happen.
|Monthly Inflation Table:|
Typically monthly inflation is highest from January through May, often in the 0.30% to 0.50% range. And then, in June, inflation typically starts to moderate into a lower range. But, as we can see from the table above, 2021 has been pretty much above that range, with June even higher than May. July is well below June but still high for a summer month.
In the chart below, we can see how the monthly inflation compares between 2019 (light green), 2020 (light blue), and 2021 (red). We can see that massive red lines replaced negative light blue lines for March and April. And another massive red line replaced the virtually zero 2020 line for May. June’s red line was much bigger than the blue, but then in July and August, blue was slightly bigger than red which has helped the annual inflation rate decline slightly. So the question now is can the monthly rate come in lower than the very low 2020 September through December rates? Or will annual inflation start to tick up again?
In April 2020, the FED began to fight Deflation with a massive Quantitative Easing program and near Zero Fed Funds rates, and by June, the FED showed signs of slacking off. But since then, it has been gradually increasing assets and keeping interest rates very low. With inflation well over the FED target of 2%, I’m not sure how they continue to justify their massive stimulus of 1.9 Trillion… which could trigger a HUGE spike in inflation later in the year or 2022. Over the last month, it looks like they may have cut back on their stimulation, but they also reduced the Fed Funds rate.
History of Quantitive Easing
The market crash of 2008 destroyed liquidity and created massive deflationary forces, so the FED began fighting against deflation through traditional means and then through Quantitative Easing. Then in November 2015, the FED switched sides and began slowly raising interest rates to fight against Inflation. From there, inflation rose from July 2016 – February 2017, convincing the FED that it was safe to raise rates a bit more aggressively. On March 15, 2017, the Fed voted to raise its benchmark FED-funds rate by a quarter percentage point, to a range of 0.75% to 1% on the assumption that inflation was building (and because they were desperate to raise rates so they would have somewhere to go in the next recession). At its June 2017 meeting, they decided to raise it by another quarter percentage point bringing the benchmark rate to a (1.0% to 1.25%) range. Those were their target ranges.
Throughout 2018 the FED followed a policy of Quantitative Tightening (QT) and raised the FED Funds rate that they charge banks. QT is the opposite of Quantitative Easing. In “Quantitative Easing” (QE), the FED acquired government debt by buying it on the open market. QT is a process whereby the FED reduces the debt held by not renewing Federal Debt when it matures.
According to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), the U.S. entered into a recession in February 2020 (shaded area) after the longest boom in economic history. According to NBER, the peak occurred in February 2020. Since unemployment was COVID-related rather than a normal slowing economy, economic activity picked up again rather quickly. In July 2021, NBER declared the bottom had occurred only a couple of months after the recession began. Thus giving us the shortest recession on record.
After the massive QE increase in March 2020, the FED tried tightening from June 10th through July 8th, 2020. That small QT caused concern among many market analysts, but then the money began flowing again… as we saw a progressive stairstep increase through last month.
But if we look at a closeup of just the 2021 months, we can see that the deluge of massive money printing may have slowed in the most recent month. But whether this is a change in direction or merely a pause remains to be seen.
Composition of Fed Assets: St. Louis FED
See NYSE ROC for more info on how this may affect the stock market.
Federal Funds Rate:
The chart below shows that the FED Funds Rate peaked at around 2.40% from January 2019 through July 2019. Then the FED began fearing that it was holding too tight and the stock market was suffering, so it began easing. It leveled off in November 2019 at 1.55%, where it stayed until February 2020. COVID tanked the market at that point, and the FED loosened rates to virtually zero (actually 0.05%), i.e., five one-hundredths of a percent. It held relatively steady at that near-zero level until June 2021, when inflation started picking up, so the FED began tentatively raising it very slightly to 1/10th of 1% in July 2021. But in August, the FED decided to lower it to 0.09%.
See: Inflation Expectations and the Massive Fed Stimulus and Will the $2 Trillion Covid-19 Stimulus Cause Inflation? For a discussion on how this affects the stock market, see NYSE Rate of Change Commentary.
Previously the FED…
From the chart above, we can see that FED interest rates “stair-stepped” up throughout 2017 and 2018, and from February 2016 through January 2019, it increased sixfold. The FED raised its Federal Funds Rate almost a full percentage point from January 2018 through January 2019 from 1.41% to 2.40%. By the fourth quarter of 2018, the markets got spooked due to the combined rising interest rates and Quantitative Tightening (QT). The FED promised to curb their “tightening”. But actually, their promise only included the FED Funds Rate since QT continued through September 2019.
So, the FED Funds rate leveled off during the first half of 2019. But after July, the FED lowered the FED Funds rate significantly, falling from 2.40% in July to 1.55% by November. The FED held the FED Funds rate steady at 1.55% from November through January, increasing slightly to 1.58% in February.
Annual Inflation Table:
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If we compare May 2020’s cpi index (256.394) with May 2021 (269.195), we can see a 12.801 point increase in the 12 month period. 12.801 / 256.394=0.049927, which when rounded to 2 decimal places and converted to a percentage equals 4.99% annual inflation.
See monthly Inflation for a table of all the individual months since 1913.
2015 was Deflationary
The months January 2015 through May 2015 plus again in September ended with annual deflation.
Note that the BLS rounded some of these months to 0.0%. Also worth noting: Annual deflation for the first five months of 2015 was primarily due to lower gasoline prices rather than a lack of FED money printing. However, the FED had tapered its “Quantitative Easing” program. One major issue remains, i.e., the low Velocity of Money, resulting in a low money multiplier and a low inflation rate.
|Month||Annual Inflation / Deflation||CPI Index|
June through December saw inflation increase except the year ending in September, which was slightly deflationary again. Interestingly, the CPI index peaked in August and then fell steadily from September 2015 through December 2015 from 237.945 to 236.525, but annual inflation rose. That is because October, November, and December 2014 were more deflationary than October, November, and December 2015. As each month’s rate was replaced, the ANNUAL inflation rate rose even though the monthly inflation rate was negative (but less negative than the previous year).
Note the 2% dotted line on the chart, which signifies the FED “target”. According to policy, the FED is targeting a 2% inflation rate. As we can see from the chart, over the last 25 years, they have hit the target a total of 6 times out of more than 300 data points. If we count all the times they crossed the target or even got close; we get a total of about 25 or less than 8% of the time. This lends credence to the idea that the FED has less control over inflation (and even deflation) than they would like us to believe.
The overall trend since 1990 has been down with a few brief periods of higher inflation. The chart shows the annual inflation rate from 1989. The rate peaked in October 1990 at 6.29% from there it trended down until it bottomed just above 1% in 2002. Inflation increased from there to peak at 5.6%in 2008 just before the crash, which took it down to a deflationary -2.10%.
The FED’s Quantitative easing pumped inflation back up to 3.77% by 2011. But Operation Twist and QE3 did not result in additional inflation, and instead, rates returned to the 1% level.
However, as prices were beginning to climb again in 2014, the oil prices came crashing down. Common wisdom has it that this was an effort by foreign oil companies to cripple shale oil and alternatives like Solar and Wind. But is this really the cause of the oil glut? And will the new deal with Russia eliminate it? See The Truth About the Russia-Saudi Oil Deal for more information.
Cost of Gas:
One of the major factors in Consumer Price Inflation is the price of energy, primarily gasoline for their vehicles, but also heating oil and Electricity (which is also dependent on oil prices).
Gas Prices Source: AAA
The retail cost of Gasoline (Regular) averaged $3.29 nationwide in January 2013, then increased to $3.77 in February. By January 2014, the nationwide average price for regular gasoline was back down to $3.31, almost identical to January 2013. It increased again to $3.64/gallon in April 2014, with Premium averaging just under $4.00 nationwide.
But by January 2015, the nationwide average had fallen to $2.08, with some localities registering prices below $2.00/gallon. In February 2015, gasoline prices across the country had ticked up again slightly and were averaging $2.343/ gallon.
In January 2016, the nationwide average was $1.87, and it fell to $1.71 in February but rose to $1.96 in March. Of course, prices vary widely across the country due primarily to state taxes on gasoline. For instance, California imposes 38.13 cents per gallon taxes on gasoline in addition to the federal 18.4 cents per gallon tax, while many other states impose less than 20 cents per gallon.
In January 2017, several states adjusted their highway taxes. Pennsylvania already had the largest gas tax in the country, at 50.4 cents per gallon, but they increased it by another 7.9 cents per gallon on January 1st to 58.2 cents per gallon.
We have published several articles on how the Oil price is affected by the petrodollar. But gasoline prices are also affected by state and federal highway taxes. Historically Democrats have pushed for an increase in the 18.4 cents per gallon federal highway tax, which funds the Highway Trust Fund, the primary source for funding federal highway and transit programs. This would increase the price you pay at the pump, not just while gas prices are low but even if gasoline prices returned to previous higher levels.
- Death of the Petrodollar
- Total War over the Petrodollar
- More on the PetroDollar
- The current map of gas prices by county
- Gasoline Taxes by State
Inflation in 2014
2014 began with 1.58% annual inflation in January, rising to 2.13%% in May. Although monthly inflation for the first two months was 0.37% each, at 0.64%, March had almost as much inflation as the previous two months combined and settling back down to 0.33% in April and 0.35% in May. But annualizing that rate would still result in 4.20% annual inflation, while annualizing March’s rate would result in a whopping 7.68% total inflation for the year. Fortunately, the first quarter is usually the highest, and inflation typically decreases and often ends in deflation in the last quarter of the year. Monthly inflation was negative (disinflationary) every month from July through November except September when it was slightly inflationary 0.08%.
Inflation in 2013
2013 started at 1.59%, then had a low of 1.06% in April with highs in February and July of 1.98% and 1.96%, respectively. September fell back to 1.18%, and October fell to a new low of for the year of 0.96%. November bumped up a bit to 1.24%, and December finished the year at 1.50%, not far from where it started.
See 2012 – 2013 Inflation Recap for more information.
Quantitative Easing (and Inflation)
On November 25, 2008, the Federal Reserve announced that it would purchase up to $600 billion in agency mortgage-backed securities (MBS) and agency debt. This was the beginning of the Quantitative Easing program and later called QE1.
In December, the FED cut interest rates to near Zero.
In March 2009, the FED announced that it would purchase another $750 Billion in junk mortgages (Mortgage Backed Securities) and $300 Billion in Treasury Securities primarily because the rate of inflation was still heading down.
There is often a lag in the effects of money creation, but as QE1 ended, the inflation rate again began dropping, spending much of 2010 at just over 1%.
So the FED decides QE2 is necessary, and this time, it purchases another $600 Billion of Longer-Term Treasury Notes. The inflation rate increases to almost 4%, but when QE2 stops, the inflation rate begins falling again. Personally, I would love to see the inflation rate stay between 1 and 2% or, better yet, between 0% and 1%. In the long run, steady low inflation rates benefit everyone as people can accurately judge their future costs and make sound business decisions. But the government prefers a higher inflation rate so it can repay its debts with “cheaper dollars.” Inflation also erodes savings and causes consumers to act imprudently and spend more than they would if they had sound (unchanging) money. This is what the government means by “stimulating the economy”, i.e., causing people to spend more than they would prudently do otherwise. The obvious long-term effects are a society with more debt than it should have, and thus we see crashes like we saw in 2008. Then the government has to “do something,” so it prints more money to fix the problem it created by printing money in the first place. For more detail, see: Stimulate the Economy? Please Don’t!
On September 21, 2011, the Federal Open Market Committee announced Operation Twist.
On September 13, 2012, the FED announced QE3, which was $40 Billion a month in purchases, and on December 12, 2012, they announced an additional $45 Billion per month with no definite end in sight.
We’ve added QE1, QE2, Operation Twist, and QE infinity to the chart so that you can see the effects on the inflation rate. These “Quantitative Easings” were not your typical FED money-printing schemes. In QE1, which lasted from November 25th, 2008 – March 31, 2010, the FED started by purchasing $500 Billion in Mortgage-backed securities. Most of these securities were virtually worthless at this point. But just a few months earlier, they were considered part of the larger money supply. So in effect, the FED bailed out the owners of this junk debt and pumped up the money supply at the same time by converting worthless junk into “valuable” greenbacks.
In December, Ben Bernanke began “tapering” which slowly shut off the flow of easy money, and by October 2014, the flow was totally stopped.
In our video, What is the Real Purpose of the Federal Reserve? Edward Griffen reminds us that the Federal Reserve is really just a bank cartel, and it primarily has its member’s interests at heart. So monetizing worthless junk paper and bailing out the banks that held them makes perfect sense when looked at in that light. Operation Twist was announced on September 21, 2011, and it was designed to buy long-term Treasury notes on the open market while simultaneously selling short-term notes. This would have the effect of driving long-term interest rates down. Theoretically, this should have helped mortgage borrowers better afford new homes (but more importantly to the bank cartel) boost the demand for loans and the bank’s profit margins. To some extent, this has happened but probably not to the extent that they had hoped.
At InflationData.com, we like to take our inflation numbers straight with as little adjustment as possible, so we only look at the non-adjusted numbers. So often, you will hear different numbers quoted in the popular media because they usually use the “Seasonally Adjusted” numbers.
Many people believe that the “Official Government numbers” are fudged. See Can We Trust Government Inflation Numbers? and Is the Government Fudging Unemployment Numbers? and Employment vs. Unemployment for more evidence the Government is fudging the Unemployment numbers.
The velocity of Money:
The average annual inflation rate for the entire period since 1913 has been 3.15% per year. (Using Geometric Mean). For more information on the Geometric Mean, see: Inflation by Decade.