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Strong consumer spending . . . or inflation?

Bob Moon Aug 2, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: The Dow Industrial Average only has 30 stocks in it, so when one of them has a big day, people pay attention. Procter & Gamble reported a 36 percent jump in quarterly profits this morning. But where Wall Street saw a silver lining, others saw more of a gray cloud. Here’s Marketplace’s Bob Moon.

BOB MOON: Investors either missed or dismissed one of the big reasons P&G’s profits surged: The company raised prices on many of its products. And it seems P&G’s rivals have been willing to go along with the trend. Chief Financial Officer Clayt Daley talked about that during a conference call with analysts:

CLAYT DALEY: If commodity and energy prices are up, we have tried to recover those costs. And in most cases — not all, but in most cases — competitors have had the same issues on costs. And we’ve had, I think, pretty orderly price increases in most of our businesses around the world.

That may be good news for P&G and its rivals who are succeeding at making those price increases stick. But at Clearview Economics, Ken Mayland says, until recently,rising prices those pressures had been mostly confined to raw materials. Now he wonders: If consumers have come to accept — or perhaps even expect — higher prices, could that signal the start of an eventual inflationary spiral?

KEN MAYLAND: It is coming higher and higher up the supply chain — now to finished goods and ultimately, I think, we are seeing some hints that some of this is getting through to the consumer. And again, that is worrisome.

It has been troubling Wall Street, as investors brace for the Federal Reserve’s next action on interest rates a week from now.

MAYLAND: My inclination is to believe they will increase because, as I see it, a lot of the leading edge inflation indicators have continued to show pressures.

Once prices for consumer products start rising, the Fed knows how hard it is to put the toothpaste back in the tube.

In Los Angeles, I’m Bob Moon for Marketplace.

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