By Anika Anand
March inflation numbers that will be released Friday will likely show a .3 percent increase in the total price of goods and services. This means the economy is on a path to recovery and the Federal Reserve will continue to stand by its stimulus policy of near-zero interest rates.
Gas prices will be mostly responsible for the uptick in the Consumer Price Index, while the prices of other goods and services will remain relatively stable. The core index, which excludes food and gas because of their volatility, will increase a healthy .2 percent. The Fed is comfortable with this rate of change, because it’s a reflection that the economy is growing without a significant cost burden to consumers.
“Even if inflation does start to creep higher in the short term, the Fed will maintain its stance that any impact on inflation is transitory,” said Jacob Oubina, a senior U.S. economist at RBC Capital Markets.
The Federal Open Market Committee, which is responsible for setting interest rates, said in March, “The recent increase in oil and gasoline prices will push up inflation temporarily, but the Committee anticipates that subsequently inflation will run at or below the rate that it judges most consistent with its dual mandate.”
The Fed considers long-term inflation when deciding on policy changes, Oubina said. And long-term inflation numbers have been declining. February’s year-over-year inflation, or how much prices have increased from February 2011 to February 2012, was 2.9 percent. This number has come down from a 3.9 year-over-year inflation in September 2011.
Because long-term inflation is on the decline and current CPI numbers show that inflation is being contained, the Fed will likely keep interest rates near zero, which they hope will boost the economy by giving businesses and consumers cheaper access to credit.
Other indicators that may affect the forecast for Friday’s CPI numbers are the U.S. Import and Export Price Indexes, the Institute for Supply Management Survey and the Producer Price Index.
The U.S. Import and Export Price Indexes, released Wednesday, show that import prices increased 1.3 percent in March, the first increase since November and the highest increase since April 2011. The change was mostly attributed to higher import fuel prices, which will likely contribute to the predicted .3 percent increase in the CPI.
The Institute for Supply Management survey shows that prices of raw materials have steadily increased for manufacturers since December 2011. Also the Producer Price Index, which measures sellers’ price changes, will be released Thursday and will likely show that producers are taking on the increase of costs and not passing them onto the consumer.
Overall, there will be some small increases in apparel prices, since those dramatically declined last month, Oubina said.
“Otherwise, inflation will be a pretty ho hum number.”