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Is there a way to control inflation?

Nancy Marshall-Genzer Jan 13, 2011

Is there a way to control inflation?

Nancy Marshall-Genzer Jan 13, 2011


Kai Ryssdal: As long as we’re on food costs, I refer you to the Producer Price Index that came out today. More expensive food and energy lifted wholesale prices last month way more than expected. Hang on, though.

Because when you strip out food and energy, what’s called the core PPI — that is, the cost of everything else, from cars to dish soap — rose hardly at all. And that tells us inflation isn’t really kicking in yet. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke predicts inflation isn’t going to be a problem this year. But when you look at all the factors that help cause inflation, which ones can you really control and which ones can you not?

Marketplace’s Nancy Marshall Genzer reports.

Nancy Marshall Genzer:The Federal Reserve is in charge of containing inflation. But some things are out of even Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke’s control, like the weather. Which is one reason the Fed can’t do much about inflation in commodities like food and energy.

Alan Levenson is chief economist at T. Rowe Price. He says droughts or flooding can ruin most of a crop, sending prices for what’s left skyrocketing. Levenson says Mother Nature can make a mess of oil prices, too.

Alan Levenson: It can be weather, like a heavy hurricane season disrupting oil shipments.

Oil prices can also be buffeted by wars in oil-producing countries and speculation by investors. But here’s the good news: All this is temporary.

Joel Naroff is president and chief economist at Naroff Economic Advisors.

Joel Naroff: If you have a freeze, you may lose a vegetable crop and those prices go up. But once the next crop comes in, then you get back to a more normal price level.

Naroff says, knowing that, the Fed lets food and energy prices ride. But, it can influence the prices of just about everything else by manipulating the money supply to change interest rates. If the rates for car loans are high, people buy fewer cars. If the interest rate on my credit card goes up, I’ll buy less of just about everything.

Jonathan Basille is a Credit Suisse economist.

Jonathan Basille: That’s what higher interest rates do. They cool things off when there’s too much demand for something.

Even if you can’t control the weather, that’s a pretty neat trick.

In Washington, I’m Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

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