Consumer prices surged more than expected over the past 12 months, indicating a worsening outlook for inflation and cementing the likelihood of substantial interest rate hikes this year.
The consumer price index for January, which measures the costs of dozens of everyday consumer goods, rose 7.5% compared with a year ago, the Labor Department reported Thursday.
That compared with Dow Jones estimates of 7.2% for the closely watched inflation gauge. It was the highest reading since February 1982.
Stripping out volatile gas and grocery costs, the CPI increased 6%, compared with the estimate of 5.9%. Core inflation rose at its fastest level since August 1982.
The monthly CPI rates also came in hotter than expected, with headline and core CPI both rising 0.6%, compared with the estimates for a 0.4% increase by both measures.
Stock market futures declined following the report, with rate-sensitive tech stocks hit especially hard. Government bond yields rose sharply, with the benchmark 10-year Treasury note touching 2%, its highest since August 2019.
Markets also got more aggressive in pricing rate hikes ahead.
The chances of a 0.5 percentage point Fed rate increase in March rose to 44.3% following the data release, compared with 25% just before, according to CME data. Chances of a sixth quarter-percentage point hike this year rose to about 63%, compared with about 53% before the release.
“With another surprise jump in inflation in January, markets continue to be concerned about an aggressive Fed,” said Barry Gilbert, asset allocation strategist at LPL Financial. “While things may start getting better from here, market anxiety about potential Fed overtightening won’t go away until there are clear signs inflation is coming under control.”
Food, shelter costs up sharply
The inflation numbers come at a crossroads for the U.S. economy, with 2021′s rapid growth pace expected to slow this year as fiscal and monetary stimulus fades. Growth is still expected to be above trend, though sharper rate increases from an inflation-fighting Fed could prove troublesome.
On a percentage basis, fuel oil rose the most in January, surging 9.5% as part of a 46.5% year-over-year increase. Energy costs overall were up 0.9% for the month and 27% on the year.
Vehicle costs, which have been one of the biggest inflation contributors since they began surging higher in the spring of 2021, were flat for new models and up 1.5% for used cars and trucks in January. The two categories have posted respective increases of 12.2% and 40.5% over the past 12 months.
Shelter costs, which make up about one-third of the total CPI number, increased 0.3% on the month, which is the smallest gain since August 2021 and slightly below December’s rise. Still, the category is up 4.4% over the past year and could keep inflation readings elevated in the future.
Food costs jumped 0.9% for the month and are up 7% over the past year.
That combination of higher food and housing prices “underlines our view that a rapid cyclical acceleration in inflation is underway and, with labor market conditions exceptionally tight, it is unlikely to abate any time soon,” wrote Andrew Hunter, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics.
“While we still expect more favorable base effects and a partial easing of supply shortages to push core inflation lower this year, this suggests it will remain well above the Fed’s target for some time,” he added.
The burst in inflation has muted the sizeable earnings growth workers have seen. Real average hourly earnings rose just 0.1% for the month, as the 0.7% monthly gain in wages was almost completely wiped out by the 0.6% inflation gain.
A separate report Thursday showed that weekly jobless claims totaled 223,000 for the week ended Feb. 5, a decline of 16,000 from the previous week and below the 230,000 estimate. It was the lowest total since Jan. 1.
Continuing claims, which run a week behind, held at 1.62 million. The total of those receiving benefits under all programs rose slightly to about 2.1 million, according to Labor Department data through Jan. 22.
US stocks suffer biggest daily drop in almost two years
US stocks posted the biggest daily drop in almost two years as investors assess the impact of higher prices on earnings and prospects for monetary policy tightening on economic growth. The dollar and Treasuries gained amid a pickup in haven bids.
The selloff sent the S&P 500 down 4%, with the plunge in consumer shares surpassing 6%. Target Corp. tumbled more than 20% in its worst rout since 1987, after trimming its profit forecast due to a surge in costs. Shares of retailers from Walmart Inc. to Macy’s Inc. were caught in the downdraft. The Nasdaq 100 fell the most among major benchmarks, dropping more than 5% as growth-related tech stocks sank. Megacaps Apple Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. slid at least 5%.
Treasuries rose across the board, sending the 10- and 30-year Treasury yields down as much as 11 basis points. The dollar rose against all of its Group-of-10 counterparts, except the yen and Swiss franc. Gold caught bids in the move into havens.
The benchmark S&P 500 is emerging from the longest weekly slump since 2011, but any rebounds in risk sentiment are proving fragile amid tightening monetary settings, Russia’s war in Ukraine and China’s Covid lockdowns.
In some of his most hawkish remarks to date, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said Tuesday that the US central bank will raise interest rates until there is “clear and convincing” evidence that inflation is in retreat. Chicago Fed President Charles Evans said Wednesday he sees a half-point rate increase at next month’s meeting and “probably thereafter.”
In Europe, new-vehicle sales shrank for a 10th month in a row as the industry remains mired in supply-chain crises, while euro-area inflation plateaued at a record high. Meanwhile, UK inflation rose to its highest level since Margaret Thatcher was prime minister 40 years ago, adding to pressure for action from the government and central bank.
Netflix lays off 150 employees due to slow revenue growth and business needs
Netflix is reportedly laying off nearly 150 employees in the coming days due to disappointing earnings and slow revenue growth.
According to a Variety report, the Amazon Prime Video rival might also terminate its contract with contractual contributors.
The layoffs are about 2 per cent of Netflix’s US workforce. “As we explained [in reporting Q1] earnings, our slowing revenue growth means we are also having to slow our cost growth as a company. So sadly, we are letting around 150 employees go today, mostly U.S.-based,” a Netflix spokesperson said.
The statement further revealed that the decision was primarily driven by business needs rather than individual performance. Netflix reported $7.87 billion in Q1, which was short of Wall Street’s estimates of $7.93 billion.
The report further reveals that nearly 70 part-time employees in Netflix’s animation studio will have to pack up and leave. A report by The Verge stated that about 26 contractors working on Netflix’s fan-focused Tudum website might see a termination.
“A number of agency contractors have also been impacted by the news announced this morning. We are grateful for their contributions to Netflix,” the company said.
Netflix, in its recent earnings call, revealed that it lost thousands of subscribers, which is a first for the company in over a decade.
The company expects to lose an additional 2 million in the next quarter due to the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine. Netflix has shut shop in Russia following the country’s invasion of Ukraine.
Dollar breaks N600/$ ceiling ahead of party’s presidential primaries
Less than two weeks to the presidential primaries of the political parties ahead of the 2023 elections, the US dollar has broken the N600/$ mark at the parallel market and set the tone for a possible uptick in the coming days.
The black market rate had traded between N570/$ and N590/$ since the beginning of the year while the Central bank of Nigeria (CBN)’s intervention at the Nigerian Autonomous Foreign Exchange (NAFEX) has kept its rate under N420/$.
With the latest slump of the naira, the arbitrage between the parallel and NAFEX, which is regarded as the official window, is now inching close to N200/$. The spread measures the deviation of the controlled official rate from the real rate of exchange, with experts calling for liberalisation of the market to enable naira to find its true value.
The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have also warned of the repercussions of sustaining an artificially high naira while calling on the CBN to embark on market reform.
But the CBN has maintained that Nigeria, with the current high level of importation and underperformance of the industrial sector, cannot afford to float the naira completely as the exchange rate could spill out of control.
At the Lagos street market, yesterday, naira traded between N595/$ and N600/$ band. With the presidential primaries of the two leading political parties scheduled for Abuja next weekend, there is an expectation the demand pressure has not peaked, suggesting that naira is in for a protracted pressure.
At peer-to-peer (P2P) trading platforms, the dollar has been trading above N600 in the past three weeks, which had signaled that the black market rate could break through the psychological ceiling.
With that eventually happening, naira could be on a renewed free fall.
But there is also hope that it is a season to offload warehoused hard currencies for political campaigns to possibly shore up supply.
Experts are not sure where rising demand and supply of foreign exchange would lead the naira to, but the interplay between the movements of the two variables is a key factor in predicting the value of the naira in the tense political season. Godwin Owoh, a professor of applied economics, advised Nigerians to prepare for a steeper fall of the local currency, saying partisan politics and intra-party meetings, which are highly dollarised would bring much pressure to bear.
The CBN has promised to continue to protect the naira but its ability could be constrained by the equally falling reserve. For the first time in eight months, the gross reserves dropped below N39 billion on Monday, when CBN data put the figures at N38.92 billion. Effectively, the country’s reserves have depleted by $160 billion year-to-date.
Bismarck Rewane, an economist, had projected the reserve to collapse to $32 billion in the year as he expected the CBN to spend $8 to $10 billion defending the naira, which is taking much pressure from excessive importation.
The value of Nigeria’s imports increased by 64 per cent last year to N20.84 trillion. Sadly, the value of exports increased at a slower rate – 51 per cent – to N18. 91 trillion in the same period. The falling reserves and rising imports have put the apex bank in dire straits in its efforts to continue to defend the naira.
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