Numbers that keep Ben Bernanke up at night

Bob Moon Apr 30, 2007
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Numbers that keep Ben Bernanke up at night

Bob Moon Apr 30, 2007
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KAI RYSSDAL: We fully understand this is no way to start a radio program. But we’re here today to talk about personal consumption expenditures. It does sound boring. Nobody’s gonna argue that.

But it also happens to be a key inflation indicator. And today’s number from the Commerce Department is setting off alarm bells about rising prices. It shows prices rose 2.4 percent in March — that’s over a year ago. And that, adjusting for those price increases, consumer spending was actually down last month in terms of what we got for our money.

As Marketplace’s Bob Moon tells us, that’s exactly the kind of thing that keeps Fed chairman Ben Bernanke up at night.


BOB MOON: The central bankers who set interest rates are most concerned about the part of the personal consumption price index that factors out more volatile food and energy costs. Strip those away and you can see how those costs are affecting prices for other things, and possibly dragging down consumer spending.

So which way will the Fed turn? Will it be tempted to raise rates to control inflation, or lower rates to spur that old mainstay of the economy, consumer spending?

University of Maryland economist Peter Morici thinks neither:

PETER MORICI: Doctor Benanke is stuck between a rock and a hard place. The economy is teetering on the precipice of a recession because of the slump in new home construction. On the other hand, the economy is enduring a great deal of inflation because of conditions in international oil markets and tightness in domestic refining capacity.

Morici says the reason the Fed chairman is so worried is simple. Inflation, he says, is just too high:

MORICI: Two-and-a-half percent inflation a year is right at the edge of things getting out of control.

But with consumer spending down, Morici believes interest-rate policymakers will stay on the sidelines until at least September.

I’m Bob Moon for Marketplace.

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