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A Long-Term Look at U.S. Inflation

Economics / Inflation Mar 16, 2013 - 06:55 PM GMT

By: PhilStockWorld

Economics

Doug Short writes: The March 2012 Consumer Price Index for Urban Consumers (CPI-U) released today puts the February year-over-year inflation rate at 1.98%, about half the 3.92% average since the end of the Second World War.

For a comparison of headline inflation with core inflation, which is based on the CPI excluding food and energy, see this monthly feature.


For better understanding of how CPI is measured and how it impacts your household, see my Inside Look at CPI components.

For an even closer look at how the components are behaving, see this X-Ray View of the data for the past five months.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has compiled CPI data since 1913, and numbers are conveniently available from the FRED repository (here). My long-term inflation charts reach back to 1872 by adding Warren and Pearson’s price index for the earlier years. The spliced series is available at Yale Professor Robert Shiller’s website. This look further back into the past dramatically illustrates the extreme oscillation between inflation and deflation during the first 70 years of our timeline. Click here for additional perspectives on inflation and the shrinking value of the dollar.

Alternate Inflation Data

The chart below (click here for a larger version) includes an alternate look at inflation *without* the calculation modifications the 1980s and 1990s (Data from www.shadowstats.com).


On a personal note, the more I study inflation the more convinced I am that the current BLS method of calculating inflation is reasonably sound. As a first-wave Boomer who raised a family during the double-digit inflation years of the 1970s and early 1980s, I see nothing today that is remotely like the inflation we endured at that time. Moreover, government policy, the Federal Funds Rate, interest rates in general and decades of major business decisions have been fundamentally driven by the official BLS inflation data, not the alternate CPI. For this reason I view the alternate inflation data as an interesting but ultimately useless statistical series.

That said, I think that economist John Williams, the founder of Shadow Government Statistics, to which I subscribe, offers provocative analysis on a range of government statistics. While I do not share his hyperinflationary expectations, at least not based on current economic conditions, I find his skeptical view of government data to be filled with thoughtful insights.

For independent evidence that the Consumer Price Index is a reasonably accurate representation of the prices we pay, see the MIT Billion Prices Project US Daily Index.

- Phil

Click here for a free trial to Stock World Weekly.

www.philstockworld.com

Philip R. Davis is a founder of Phil's Stock World (www.philstockworld.com), a stock and options trading site that teaches the art of options trading to newcomers and devises advanced strategies for expert traders. Mr. Davis is a serial entrepreneur, having founded software company Accu-Title, a real estate title insurance software solution, and is also the President of the Delphi Consulting Corp., an M&A consulting firm that helps large and small companies obtain funding and close deals. He was also the founder of Accu-Search, a property data corporation that was sold to DataTrace in 2004 and Personality Plus, a precursor to eHarmony.com. Phil was a former editor of a UMass/Amherst humor magazine and it shows in his writing -- which is filled with colorful commentary along with very specific ideas on stock option purchases (Phil rarely holds actual stocks). Visit: Phil's Stock World (www.philstockworld.com)

© 2013 Copyright  PhilStockWorld - All Rights Reserved Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisors.

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