Real World Consequences of Core Inflation Focus

A pair of not unrelated stories:

First, today’s Dumb Headline of the Day, is this annoying piece courtesy of the NYT:

Core Inflation Remains Steady, Presenting a Puzzle to the Fed

The first few paragraphs mix assumptions, info and conjecture into, well, I really don’t know what:

"Hopes that the Federal Reserve will again cut interest rates at the
end of the month were further reduced yesterday after a report showed
inflation holding steady
in September. But a worsening housing slump
and a mixed economic outlook could put the Fed in a difficult spot as
it considers what steps to take in the months ahead.

Prices of consumer goods ticked up 0.3 percent in September, a
slightly higher-than-expected increase that reversed a 0.1 percent
decline in August."

Slightly higher than expected? Consensus was for 0.2% — so this was only 50% above expectations. 

Back to the stenography article:

"The Consumer Price Index’s core rate, a gauge of
inflation that excludes relatively volatile food and energy prices,
held at 0.2 percent, where it has been since June, the Labor Department
said yesterday.

The report suggests that pricing pressures have remained in check.
But the Fed, always wary of inflation risks, prefers a slower rate of 1
percent to 2 percent. Overall inflation was up 2.8 percent compared
with September 2006, its highest 12-month growth rate since March.
Higher prices for rent, gasoline and food, especially fruit and
vegetables, led the increase as consumers began to feel the effects of
surging oil prices and a weaker dollar.

The inflation picture, coupled with recent reports that have
indicated a more resilient economy than analysts expected, makes it
more likely the Fed will keep rates unchanged when it issues its
decision on Oct. 31."

Note that Fed fund futures increased the odds of a cut at the October 31st FOMC meeting . . .


Next, we look at the real world consequences of this artificial self-destructive focus of inflation ex-inflation:

Social Security Checks to Rise 2.3%
Cost-of-Living Adjustment Is Smallest Since ’03

Payments to Social Security recipients and most federal retirees will increase 2.3 percent in January. It is the smallest cost-of-living adjustment since 2003, reflecting a lower rate of inflation.

The adjustment will increase the average monthly Social Security retirement benefit by $24, to $1,079. It is based on the rise in the consumer price index in the third quarter, a figure the Labor Department released yesterday.

The increase directly affects the finances of about 50 million people, including more than 31 million Social Security retirees and 11 million people who receive disability or other supplemental income from the Social Security Administration. It is also a significant number to the more than 4 million federal government and military retirees, about 500,000 of whom live in the Washington region.

So despite the enormous rise in energy, food costs, housing expenses, insurance, medical coverage, we see that Social Security is barely budging.

When we said that "Inflation is the cruelest tax," now you know what we mean.

Y’all keep focusing on the core . . .


Core Inflation Remains Steady, Presenting a Puzzle to the Fed   
NYT, October 18, 2007

Social Security Checks to Rise 2.3%
Cost-of-Living Adjustment Is Smallest Since ’03
Howard Schneider and Neil Irwin
Washington Post, Thursday, October 18, 2007; Page D01

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