The Line: Inflation Climbs Higher
Updated: Mar 18, 2022
Gregory Heym is Chief Economist at Brown Harris Stevens. His weekly series, The Line, covers new developments to the economy, including trends and forecasts. Read on for the latest report and subscribe here to receive The Line in your inbox.
Consumer prices rose 7.9% over the past year, their highest annual increase since January 1982. The biggest price hikes from February 2021 were seen in fuel oil (+43.6%), used cars and trucks (+41.2%), and gasoline (+38.0%). Core inflation, which excludes food and energy prices, was 6.4% higher than a year ago. As scary as this data is, it shouldn’t be surprising to anyone as inflation has been surging since last spring. The Federal Reserve meets next week, and is expected to raise rates 0.25%. That’s a start, but it’s too bad they won’t go bigger. Chairman Powell admitted last week that the Fed should have acted sooner on inflation, so expect several more rate increases this year.
After falling the prior two weeks, the average 30-year mortgage rate rose to 3.85% according to Freddie Mac. As I’ve said before, expect more volatility in rates in the coming months than we have seen in a long time. With inflation still rising, we should expect mortgage rates to trend higher—but with the conflict in Ukraine going on, there will be surges in demand of U.S. treasury bonds that bring rates back down.
This is what has occurred the previous two weeks, and I expect it to happen as the conflict continues and the stock market remains incredibly volatile. Also, remember that as the Fed starts to slow inflation, 30-year rates could start falling, as they are based on future inflation expectations.
This volatility does present an opportunity for anyone looking to buy a home. Sure, prices have been rising as inventory has become scarce, but taking advantage of a dip in rates can help you get more for your money and feel a lot better about buying in a tight market.
The Labor Department reported last week that job openings totaled 11.26 million at the end of January, down slightly from December, but still a really big number. The number of unemployed Americans was 6.27 million last month, meaning there are five million more job openings than job seekers—or an average of 1.8 job openings for everyone looking for a job. Almost 4.3 million people quit their jobs in January, continuing what people are calling "The Great Resignation." This shows us that to fill jobs, companies are luring workers away from their current employer with pay hikes. Great for the workers, but not so great for companies who, like workers, continue to pay more for everything these days. In other labor market news, initial claims for unemployment ticked up to 227,000 last week. This is nothing to worry about, as claims are still near historically low levels. The key point here is that demand for workers remains strong, so expect hiring to remain brisk in the coming months.