Wholesale Prices Jump in January
Tuesday February 26, 12:30 pm ET
By Martin Crutsinger, AP Economics Writer
The Labor Department said Tuesday that wholesale inflation jumped by 1 percent in January, more than double the increase that analysts had been expecting.
Meanwhile, the New York-based Conference Board reported that its confidence index fell to 75.0 in February, down from a revised January reading of 87.3. The drop was far below the 83 reading that analysts had forecast and put the index at its lowest level since February 2003, a period that reflected anxiety in the leadup to the Iraq war.
Consumers have been shaken by a prolonged slump in housing that has pushed the country close to a recession.
A third report Tuesday showed that home prices, measured by the S&P/Case-Shiller Index, dropped by 8.9 percent in the fourth quarter of last year, the steepest drop in the 20-year history of the index.
"Home prices across the nation and in most metro areas are significantly lower than where they were a year ago," said Robert Shiller, one of the index's creators. "Wherever you look, things look bleak."
The January inflation surge left wholesale prices rising by 7.4 percent over the past 12 months, the fastest pace in more than 26 years.
The worse-than-expected performance was certain to capture attention at the Federal Reserve, which has chosen to combat a threatened recession by aggressively cutting interest rates in the belief that weaker economic growth will keep a lid on prices.
But the combination of rising inflation and weaker growth raises the threat of "stagflation," the economic malady that plagued the country through the 1970s, when a series of oil shocks left households battered by the twin problems of stagnant growth and rising inflation.
The 1 percent jump in wholesale prices followed a 0.3 percent decline in December and was the biggest one-month increase since a 2.6 percent increase in November. That gain had been driven by sharply higher energy costs.
The big jump in wholesale prices followed a report last week that consumer prices had risen by a worse-than-expected 0.4 percent, reflecting higher costs for food, energy and health care.
The wholesale report said that energy prices jumped 1.5 percent, as gasoline prices rose by 2.9 percent and the cost of home heating oil jumped by 8.5 percent.
Food prices, which have been surging because of increased demand stemming from ethanol production, rose by 1.7 percent last month, the biggest monthly increase in three years. Prices for beef, bakery products and eggs were all up sharply.
Core wholesale inflation, which excludes food and energy, posted a 0.4 percent increase, the biggest increase in 11 months. This gain was led by a 1.5 percent spike in the cost of prescription and non-prescription drugs.
The cost of book publishing was up 1.7 percent while the price of light trucks and passenger cars both rose by 0.3 percent.
Prices excluding food and energy are up 2.5 percent over the past 12 months, the fastest 12-month gain since a 2.5 percent rise in the 12 months ending in October.
Confidence plunges, inflation rate soars
1 hour, 5 minutes ago
No good news today on the economic front. Consumer confidence plunged, the wholesale inflation rate soared, the number of homes being foreclosed jumped, home prices fell sharply and a report predicts big increases in health care costs.
Consumer confidence weakened significantly as Americans worry about less-favorable business conditions and job prospects. The New York-based Conference Board says in a report released on Tuesday that its Consumer Confidence Index plunged in February to 75.0 from a revised 87.3 in January.
The reading — the lowest since the index registered 64.8 in February 2003 — is far below the 83.0 analysts expected.
The index measures how consumers feel now about the economy. It has been weakening since July, suggesting that wary consumers may retrench financially, which could fatigue the economy further.
Inflation at the wholesale level soared in January, pushed higher by rising costs for food, energy and medicine. The monthly increase carried the annual inflation rate to its fastest jump in a quarter century.
The Labor Department said Tuesday that wholesale prices rose 1 percent last month, more than double the 0.4 percent increase that economists had been expecting.
The January surge left wholesale prices rising by 7.5 percent over the past 12 months, the fastest pace in more than 26 years, since prices had risen at a 7.5 percent pace in the 12 months ending in October 1981.
The number of homes facing foreclosure jumped 57 percent in January compared to a year ago, with lenders increasingly forced to take possession of homes they couldn't unload at auctions, a mortgage research firm said Monday.
Nationwide, some 233,001 homes received at least one notice from lenders last month related to overdue payments, compared with 148,425 a year earlier, according to Irvine, Calif.-based RealtyTrac Inc. Nearly half of the total involved first-time default notices.
The worsening situation came despite ongoing efforts by lenders to help borrowers manage their payments by modifying loan terms, working out long-term repayment plans and other actions
U.S. home prices lost 8.9 percent in the final quarter of 2007, Standard & Poor's said Tuesday, marking a full year of declining values and the steepest drop in the 20-year history of its housing index.
"We reached a somber year-end for the housing market in 2007," said one of the index's creators Robert Shiller. "Home prices across the nation and in most metro areas are significantly lower than where they were a year ago. Wherever you look things look bleak."
The S&P/Case-Shiller home price indices, which include a quarterly index, a 20-city index and a 10-city index, reflect year-over-year declines in 17 metropolitan areas with double-digit declines in eight of them.
By 2017, total health care spending will double to more than $4 trillion a year, accounting for one of every $5 the nation spends, the federal government projects.
The 6.7 percent annual increase in spending — nearly three times the rate of inflation_ will be largely driven by higher prices and an increased demand for care, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said Monday. Other factors in the mix include a growing and aging population. The first wave of baby boomers become eligible for Medicare beginning in 2011.
With the aging population, the federal government will be picking up the tab for a growing share of the nation's medical expenses. Overall, federal and state governments accounted for about 46 percent of health expenditures in 2006. That percentage will increase to 49 percent over the next decade.