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US inflation rises 7% over the past year, highest since 1982

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Inflation plowed ahead at its fastest 12-month pace in nearly 40 years during December, according to a closely watched gauge the Labor Department released Wednesday.

The consumer price index, a metric that measures costs across dozens of items, increased 7%, according to the department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. On a monthly basis, CPI rose 0.5%.

Economists surveyed by Dow Jones had been expecting the gauge to increase 7% on an annual basis and 0.4% from November.

The annual move was the fastest increase since June 1982 and comes amid a shortage of goods and workers and on the heels of unprecedented cash flowing through the U.S. economy from Congress and the Federal Reserve.

Despite the strong gain, stocks rose after the news while government bond yields were mostly negative.

“The December CPI report of a 7% increase over the last 12 months will be shocking for some investors as we haven’t seen a number that high” in almost 40 years, said Brian Price, head of investment management at Commonwealth Financial Network. “However, this print was largely anticipated by many, and we can see that reaction in the bond market as longer-term interest rates are declining so far this morning.”

Excluding food and energy prices, so-called core CPI increased 5.5% year over year and 0.6% from the previous month. That compared with estimates of 5.4% and 0.5%. For core inflation, it was the largest annual growth since February 1991.

Shelter costs, which make up nearly one-third of the total rose 0.4% for the month and 4.1% for the year. That was the fastest pace since February 2007.

Used vehicle prices, which have been a major component of the inflation increase during the Covid pandemic due to supply chain constraints that have limited new vehicle production, rose another 3.5% in December, bringing the increase from a year ago to 37.3%.

Conversely, energy prices mostly declined for the month, falling 0.4% as fuel oil was down 2.4% and gasoline fell 0.5%. Still, the complex as a whole rose 29.3% in the 12-month period, including a gain of 49.6% for gasoline.

Fed officials are watching the inflation data closely and are widely expected to raise interest rates this year in an effort combat increasing prices and as the jobs picture approaches full employment. Though the central bank uses the personal consumption expenditures price index as its primary inflation measure, policymakers take in a wide range of information in making decisions.

“This morning’s CPI read really only solidifies what we already know: Consumer wallets are feeling pricing pressures and in turn the Fed has signaled a more hawkish approach. But the question remains if the Fed will pick up the pace given inflation is seemingly here to stay, at least in the medium-term,” said Mike Loewengart, managing director for investment strategy at E-Trade. “With Covid cases continuing to rise, the impact on the supply chain and labor shortages could persist, which only fuels higher prices.”

Inflation has been eating into otherwise strong wage gains for workers. However, real average hourly earnings posted a small 0.1% increase for the month, as the 0.6% total gain outweighed the 0.5% CPI headline increase. On a year-over-year basis, real earnings declined 2.4%, according to BLS calculations.

Fed officials largely attribute rising inflation pressures to pandemic-specific issues in which a shortage of workers has led to clogged supply chains and empty store shelves. Though there are signs the omicron variant cases could peak soon, lingering Covid issues combined with cold weather in the Northeast point “to renewed upward pressure on food prices,” wrote Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics.

Food prices broadly rose 0.5% for December and were up 6.3% on a 12-month basis, the biggest rise since October 2008.

Investors largely expect the Fed to start raising rates in March. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell, at his confirmation hearing Tuesday before the Senate banking panel, did not provide any specific dates but acknowledged that as long as current conditions persist, rate hikes are on the way.

Markets are pricing a nearly 79% chance for the first quarter-percentage point increase to come in May, and see about a 50% chance the Fed could enact four such hikes in 2022, according to the CME’s FedWatch Tool.

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BUSINESS

US stocks suffer biggest daily drop in almost two years

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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.

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Netflix lays off 150 employees due to slow revenue growth and business needs

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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.

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Dollar breaks N600/$ ceiling ahead of party’s presidential primaries

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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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