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The producer price index hints at where consumer prices are headed

Lily Jamali Feb 16, 2023
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Food prices for suppliers dropped 1% month over month, according to the producer price index. Scott Olson/Getty Images

The producer price index hints at where consumer prices are headed

Lily Jamali Feb 16, 2023
Heard on:
Food prices for suppliers dropped 1% month over month, according to the producer price index. Scott Olson/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
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New data out Thursday morning shows that U.S. wholesale prices rose 0.7% in January. Those prices are what suppliers charge businesses and other customers, and that’s the biggest jump they’ve made since June. They were up 6% from a year earlier.

This data comes courtesy of the producer price index, brought to you by our friends at the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Thursday’s PPI figures come just two days after the consumer price index release. Different day, different data. But all are pointing to a reversal in inflation, also known as disinflation.

There’s a catch though, said Tim Leary, senior portfolio manager at RBC BlueBay Asset Management.

“We don’t appear to be disinflating as quickly as some hoped,” he said.

Inflation is sticking around. Energy prices, up 5%, were the biggest driver in the rise of prices for goods. On the other hand, food prices for suppliers dropped 1% month over month, which Leary sees as a bright spot.

“Over the last 12 months, food was one of the largest sources of inflation for Americans,” Leary said.

This brings us to why PPI matters — and not just to policymakers.

“You should care as a consumer about PPI, because it’s a hint about what’s going to happen to your consumer prices in the future,” explained economist Leah Brooks of George Washington University. PPI is also an important window into what’s happening in supply chains, she said.

“Like, I can now reliably get toilet paper at my Costco,” Brooks said. But she can’t reliably get her preferred brand of tomato paste.

Swings in producer prices are often traceable to supply chain disruptions.

If the PPI stays elevated, that hits revenues and profit margins, said Joe Brusuelas, chief economist at RSM.

“And that’s how you get to a point where unemployment increases,” he said. “And at the end of the day, jobs, jobs, jobs are what we care about.”

Big picture? The latest PPI report shows policymakers are a long way off from declaring victory on inflation, Brusuelas added.

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