Gas and food prices keep climbing

A motorist pumps gas into his car at a Shell station in Chicago.

KAI RYSSDAL: A core economic report works something like this: Take the statistic of the moment, which today happens to be the Consumer Price Index. Add up all the various components to get the headline number. Up four-tenths percent last month. Now, strip out things that change a lot — food's one, energy costs are another.

That way you don't get a skewed picture of inflation as it rises or as it falls. The core rate last month was — to channel Mr. Bernanke here — a tame two-tenths percent.

All of that said, just because economists don't count gas prices when they're figuring inflation doesn't mean consumers can ignore them too. Along with the CPI report today there was a notice out from the Energy Department. Pat Loeb reports gas inventories are low. And despite high prices, demand just keeps rising.


PAT LOEB: The Energy Information Administration told the Senate today fuel prices should start to drop as more refineries come back online. The Administration's Joanne Shore says fires and power outages unexpectedly took some refineries out of commission this spring, just as global demand increased. Average gas prices hit a record $3.10 a gallon this week and that's not all.
JOANE SHORE: We have not seen the full effect of wholesale prices at retail either yet. Wholesale prices have gone up more than retail so I'm afraid we still could see more price increases.

It's not just the price at the pump that's hurting consumers. More farm products are going into alternative fuel and that makes food prices higher. Economist Diane Swonk at Mesirow Financial says it undermines the Fed's success at keeping inflation, in other sectors, in check.

DIANE SWONK: It's sort of an economic purgatory for the Federal Reserve that's lookiing at growth weaken at the same time that these food prices are going up along with oil. They'd like to see both of those recede.

And so would consumers.

I'm Pat Loeb for Marketplace.

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