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What the Christmas Price Index is Telling U.S. Consumers About Inflation

Economics / Inflation Dec 06, 2011 - 05:43 AM GMT

By: Money_Morning

Economics

Best Financial Markets Analysis ArticleKerri Shannon writes: U.S. consumers can get a glimpse of what to expect in price changes this holiday shopping season - especially if you get your gift ideas from an old song.

The PNC Christmas Price Index, released by PNC Wealth Management (NYSE: PNC) measures the total cost of presents listed in the classic tune, "The Twelve Days of Christmas." This year, the price tag for an ambitious gift-giver buying all 364 presents hit $101,119.84, a 4.4% gain over last year's index.


This is the first time ever the total cost - which PNC calls the "True Cost of Christmas" -has risen to six digits.

Just supplying the 12th day alone, with one round of all 12 presents, would cost $24,263.18, a 3.5% increase from last year. That's almost twice as much as the 1.8% gain from 2008 to 2009, when the country was nearing the end of the recession, but not as drastic as last year's 9.2% leap.

The index is a light-hearted way to examine pricing trends; it's doubtful many shoppers are overly concerned with the price of birds and hired performers. The gifts might not be on most shoppers' lists, but what the index does represent is the various price fluctuations in our economy.

"Typically we see parallels between our index and the Federal government's," James Dunigan, managing executive of investments for PNC Wealth Management, wrote in the Index release.

The U.S. government's consumer price index in October was up 3.5% from last year, the same increase the Christmas song's shopper would see for one day's worth of presents. PNC also calculates a "core" index like the Federal government does. While the official core CPI is 2.0%, PNC's Christmas core, which excludes the volatile price of swans, is only up 0.7%.

The bird-heavy gift list in the song made for some double-digit price increases due to this year's rising feed costs. The biggest gainers: A 25% jump in the cost of two turtledoves, and a 14.2% increase to buy a partridge in a pear tree.

Higher commodity prices have led to higher food costs for U.S. consumers - not just bird shoppers - and along with energy have been the main cause of overall inflation this year. Food inflation will continue next year, with global food prices expected to increase 4%.

Also up according to the Christmas Price Index are the costs of geese, pipers piping and drummers drumming.

Four items - French hens, maids-a-milking, ladies dancing and lords-a-leaping - remained the same price as last year. PNC said shoppers buying products other than hens and performers will see similar trends from stores that want to attract customers with bargains.

Just two presents saw prices fall. The calling birds slumped 13.3% from last year, while the five gold rings dipped just 0.8%.

"As the economy continues to struggle, we are seeing weakness in some areas of demand within the Index," said Dunigan. "That is illustrated in the costs of the Five Gold Rings. While gold commodity prices are at or near record highs, the demand for retail gold is waning, and thus our Five Gold Rings actually dropped by 0.8 percent this year."

Indeed, jewelry shoppers this season could find deals they weren't able to in years' past. Retail jewelry prices were down about 2% in September from August, while wholesale prices rose more than 2%. Retailers have been keeping prices down to attract consumers despite higher commodity prices pushing up costs.

PNC also included what the gifts would cost if they were all bought online. The total cost for 364 gifts purchased on the Internet is $174,382.63 -26.5% higher than last year's Internet total, and a whopping 72% higher than the total for non-Internet purchases.

"In general, Internet prices are higher than their non-Internet counterparts because of premium shipping costs for birds and the convenience factor of shopping online," said PNC's Dunigan.

This year's holiday shoppers who buy online for hard-to-ship items - like birds - could pay similar markups. Food and large, fragile items could run higher, unless you find a site like Harry and David that offers free delivery on many products.

PNC consulted the National Aviary in Pittsburgh for most of the bird prices, the Pennsylvania Ballet for the cost of "lords-a-leaping," and Philadelphia-based dance company Philadanco for the dancing ladies. Philadelphia-area stores provided prices for retail items, a musicians union gave the cost for the musical-based presents, and the unskilled maids-a-milking were paid the $7.25 minimum wage rate.

Source :http://moneymorning.com/2011/12/06/other-cpi-what-christmas-price-index-is-telling-u-s-consumers/

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