Wholesale prices increased by 0.8 percent in January, exceeding some forecasters’ predictions. But economists said it’s too soon to sound the alarm on rising inflation, mostly because the overall economic recovery still remains weak.
The increase marks the seventh consecutive rise, following a 0.9 percent advance in December and a 0.7 percent advance in November, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Wednesday.
“We’ve only recently pulled out of recession, and inflation tends to be very sedated in periods like this,” said Andrew Chamberlain, chief economist for Chamberlain Economics. “Having said that, a 0.8 percent increase is not so large that families should start worrying about 1970s-style inflation,” Chamberlain said.
The core producer price index, which excludes volatile food and energy, rose by 0.5 percent, the largest increase since October of 2008. Economists had expected a 0.2 percent gain, according to Reuters.
Nearly 40 percent of the January increase was due to a spike in pharmaceutical prices, according to the report.
Despite the jump, economists said inflation is not a threat. One reason is that unemployment remains persistently high and labor costs show no signs of inflation.
The Federal Reserve has shown little concern for price pressures and has stated that consumer inflation remains too low.
“Although commodity prices have risen, longer-term inflation expectations have remained stable, and measures of underlying inflation have been trending downward,” the Fed reported on Jan. 26. “Although the Committee anticipates a gradual return to higher levels of resource utilization in a context of price stability, progress toward its objectives has been disappointingly slow.”
Since producer prices have been on the rise, some companies, like PepsiCo, have increased their wholesale prices, but many companies have reported difficulty passing on higher costs to consumers.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Thursday that the consumer price index increased 0.4 percent in January. The index for items excluding food and energy rose 0.2 percent.
Economists said the prices have increased steadily and are a positive sign.
“Over the past seven months, consumer prices have stabilized and have returned to slight inflation,” Chamberlain said. “That’s generally a good sign, and suggests the overall U.S. economy is on its way to a full recovery.”
Chamberlain added, however, that because the U.S. economy is highly diverse and spread across a large geographic area, some parts of the country are recovering much more strongly than others.
Other economists warn that there is cause for concern if the numbers continue to rise.
“The elevated increase in core, finished goods prices—highest since late-2008—is notable. Companies are getting more bold and successful in passing through cost increases,” said Ken Mayland, president of ClearView Economics.
“A number of countries, including China, are imposing contractionary policies on their economies in attempts to keep inflation in check,” Mayland said, noting the U.S. annualized CPI inflation rate for the 3-month period ending last July, October, and January has increased 0 percent, 2.5 percent and 3.9 percent respectively.”