Business|Inflation expectations jump, another data point for the Fed to keep watch on.
Consumers expect higher inflation in the near-term and over the course of several years, a Federal Reserve Bank of New York survey found, a small but potentially important signal at a time when economic policymakers are betting that expectations will remain in check as demand and prices rebound from depressed pandemic levels.
Expectations for inflation a year from now jumped by 0.6 percentage points in May, hitting a new series high of 4 percent, the Fed branch said on Monday. The Survey of Consumer Expectations has been running since 2013, so it tracks a period during which price gains have been relatively tame.
Consumers also expected faster price increases in three years, anticipating gains of 3.6 percent, up from 3.1 percent in the April survey.
Fed officials have worried for years that inflation expectations might be drifting too low, so they could see the survey’s findings as a positive development. The 3-year-ahead number is back at levels seen in 2013, before years of tepid price gains weighed down the outlook.
At the same time, the rebound has happened abruptly, and if it continues it could push expectations too high for comfort. When consumers expect higher prices, businesses may have an easier time charging more, creating a self-fulfilling situation that sends inflation higher.
Investors will have a timely opportunity to see how the Fed is interpreting the latest data, given that the central bank meets this week and is scheduled to release its latest monetary policy statement on Wednesday alongside fresh economic projections. Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, will hold a news conference following that announcement.
The move higher in inflation expectations comes at a time when people are showing increased confidence in the job market: Those surveyed put the probability that they will lose their job in the next year at the lowest on record in the series, and the probability of finding a job rose sharply.
The labor market is gradually healing from pandemic-inflicted damage and job openings are plentiful. As the economy reopens and demand surges, supply is racing to catch up — sending inflation higher. The Fed and the White House are trying to sift through temporary, pandemic-spurred jerks in the data to gauge how much help the economy needs as it heals from more than a year of social distancing and rolling business lockdowns.