Finance

Annual wholesale inflation rises record 11.2 percent in March

In this Dec. 7, 2011 photo, Tina VanPelt and her son Soloman, 4, shop at a Costco store, in, Portland, Ore.
Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

Wholesale prices jumped 1.4 percent in March from February to hit a record 11.2 percent annual increase, as widespread inflation affecting the US economy shows no signs of letting up.

The numbers released on Wednesday follow an 8.5 percent annual rise in consumer prices announced Tuesday, the highest increase since December 1981.

The Producer Price Index published by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics measures the price of goods and services that businesses pay to each other, while the Consumer Price Index (CPI) measures retail prices that consumers pay directly.

While the CPI is considered the benchmark for inflation measurements, wholesale metrics reflect conditions in the supply chains and production pipelines where disruptions have been driving inflation since the beginning of the pandemic.

More than half of the overall wholesale increase in March is due to a 5.7 percent jump in prices for energy, with a 20-percent jump in the price of diesel fuel in particular.

Indices for gasoline, vegetables, jet fuel, iron and steel scrap metal and electric power also moved higher.

On the service side, prices moved up 0.9 percent in March following a 0.3 percent jump in February. Most of the service increase is due to transportation and warehousing services, which climbed 5.5 percent. 

While economists agree that pandemic-induced supply chain disruptions lie at the heart of inflation now felt globally, some also point to the fiscal and budgetary response of the government in the pandemic’s aftermath.

“Starting in March 2020, in response to the disruptions of Covid-19, the U.S. government created about $3 trillion of new bank reserves, equivalent to cash, and sent checks to people and businesses,” Hoover Institution economist John H. Cochrane wrote in a January brief. “Mechanically, the Treasury issued $3 trillion of new debt, which the Fed quickly bought in return for $3 trillion of new reserves. The Treasury sent out checks, transferring the reserves to people’s banks. The Treasury then borrowed another $2 trillion or so, and sent more checks. Overall, federal debt rose nearly 30 percent. Is it at all a surprise that a year later inflation breaks out?”

Analysts also point to the war in Ukraine as a driver of inflation. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, oil prices jumped from around $90 a barrel to more than $120, having settled in the last few weeks around $100.

In response to the war, the Biden administration levied numerous sanctions on Russia. While targeted mostly at Kremlin elites and businessmen, the sanctions also blocked Russian foreign currency reserves, sought to limit the country’s industrial capacity and terminated its energy imports to the U.S. 

“They’ve diverted some of this supply to China who is buying it instead,” Garrett Watson, an analyst at the Tax Foundation, a right-leaning Washington think tank, said in an interview. “But supply chain disruption and sanctions are certainly putting upward pressure on prices. But how much, is an interesting question.”

Blame for inflation has entered the political rhetoric on Capitol Hill, with Republicans coining it “Biden-flation” and casting it as a reason to let the fossil fuel industry drill for more oil. 

Democrats have sought to pin it on corporations looking to make an extra buck during a period of economic vulnerability for consumers.

–Updated at 10:05 a.m.

Tags Inflation producer price index wholesale prices

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