Inflation: A 5-Month X-Ray View

by: Doug Short

Here is a table showing the annualized change in Headline and Core CPI, not seasonally adjusted, for each of the past five months. I've also included each of the eight components of Headline CPI and a separate entry for Energy, which is a collection of sub-indexes in Housing and Transportation.

We can make some inferences about how inflation is impacting our personal expenses depending on our relative exposure to the individual components. Some of us have higher transportation costs, others medical costs, etc.

A conspicuous feature in the table, data through January, is the volatility of energy, essentially the fluctuation in gasoline prices, which is also reflected in Transportation. The recent rise in gasoline prices is not yet showing up in the CPI data.

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Here is the same table with month-over-month numbers (not seasonally adjusted). The change in energy costs is clearly illustrated, reflected here too in transportation. We also see strong seasonality in apparel costs, which rose at the end of summer and then fell with the holiday sales season.

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The Trends in Headline and Core CPI

The chart below shows Headline and Core CPI for urban consumers since 2007. Core CPI excludes the two most volatile components, food and energy. I've highlighted the 2% to 2.5% range that the FOMC targeted in their December 12, 2012 press release.

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Year-over-year Core CPI made a moderate arc above the 2% benchmark beginning October of 2011. It has now dropped below the 2% - 2.5% range at 1.59%. The more volatile Headline CPI has fallen YoY for the past three months and is now below two percent (1.59%). Much of the volatility in the past few years has been the result of broad swings in gasoline prices (more on gasoline here).

For a longer-term perspective, here is a column-style breakdown of the inflation categories showing the change since 2000.

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Note: For additional information on the component composition of the Consumer Price Index, see my Inside the Consumer Price Index.