Key Inflation Gauge Inches Down But Remains Stuck In High Gear

'Inflation appears to be cooling, but it may be a mirage' economist Gregory Daco warns
By Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek
Reporter
Tom Ozimek has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education. The best writing advice he's ever heard is from Roy Peter Clark: 'Hit your target' and 'leave the best for last.'
June 30, 2022 Updated: June 30, 2022

A key inflation gauge heavily relied on by the Federal Reserve when setting interest rates inched down in May but remained elevated near multi-decade highs at a level more than twice the central bank’s inflation target, suggesting the Fed’s fight to relieve price pressures will be drawn out.

The Fed’s preferred inflation gauge, the so-called core Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) price index, rose by 4.7 percent year-over-year in May, the Commerce Department reported on June 30.

While that’s a slight decline from the prior month’s 4.9 percent pace of growth and roughly in line with analysts’ estimates, it’s more than double the 2 percent inflation target aimed for by the U.S. central bank.

On a month-over-month basis, core PCE rose at 0.3 percent in May for the fourth month in a row, suggesting inflationary pressures remain stuck in high gear.

“Inflation appears to be cooling, but it may be a mirage as sequential momentum remains strong,” Gregory Daco, Chief Economist at EY-Parthenon, said in a tweet, referring to the elevated monthly inflation readings.

Julian Bridgen, co-founder of Macro Intelligence 2 Partners, said the year-over-year PCE inflation data is showing signs of easing and is cause for some optimism, though he expects the inflation problem will continue to bedevil the U.S. economy for longer.

“PCE is starting to lose a little momentum, so I think for the first time in two years I’m a little bit more upbeat on the inflation outlook. Doesn’t mean I think this is going away and, unfortunately, I don’t. I think it’s going to remain much more sticky than the Fed thinks,” he told Fox Business in an interview.

The Fed has gradually shifted its view on inflation, initially expecting it to be a temporary spike that would soon pass but later coming to see it as persistent and problematic, prompting the central bank to embark on a rate-hiking cycle in a bid to tame runaway prices.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said during a June 29 panel discussion at the European Central Bank’s annual policy forum in Sintra, Portugal, that the Fed is determined to keep hiking rates to bring down inflation, even if it means slowing the economy.

While the Fed chief said he believes there are “pathways” to tighten monetary policy without hurting the job market—a so-called “soft landing”—he admitted there’s “no guarantee we can do that.”

Powell said that engineering a soft landing has “gotten harder” given that geopolitical turbulence has put additional upward pressure on food and energy prices.

Tom Ozimek
Reporter
Tom Ozimek has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education. The best writing advice he's ever heard is from Roy Peter Clark: 'Hit your target' and 'leave the best for last.'