"Economists are pessimists: they've predicted 8 of the last 3 depressions."
--Barry Asmus

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Producer Price Index

Getting away from housing (or, at least, from direct exposure to housing), we turn to the Producer Price Index. This is, of course, the change in costs incurred by producers. It isn't a direct measure of inflation - not the way that CPI or the GDP price index are - but manufacturing costs get passed along eventually. Producers want to make money, after all.
Anyway, January was a little disappointing. PPI for finished goods rose 0.8%, and "core" PPI for finished goods[1] rose 0.3%. PPI for intermediate goods rose 1.7%, and PPI for crude goods rose 8.8%. For February, the Econoday-surveyed analysts are looking for improvement in the rate of change; they're calling for a 0.7% increase in PPI for finished goods and a 0.2% increase in "core" PPI for finished goods.
We go to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics for the actual report. PPI for finished goods substantially missed expectations, increasing 1.6% in February, with core PPI increasing 0.2%. PPI for finished food[2] increased 3.9%, while PPI for finished energy[3] increased 3.3%. PPI for intermediate goods increased 2.0%, and PPI for crude goods increased 3.4%.
[1] "Core", when dealing with any measure of inflation, currently means "stripped of energy and food costs". The rationale is that this removes volatility from the measure. Historically, though, what is and is not considered "core" has varied with what is and is not volatile. Ultimately, it's an accounting technique designed to make inflation look better on paper than it does on the bottom line.
[2] Finished food is the stuff you buy in the grocery store.
[3] Finished energy is things like residential electricity, home heating oil, and gasoline.

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