August 16, 2022

Fed Confronts a ‘New World’ of Inflation

The global supply of goods has been curtailed by one issue after another since the onset of the pandemic, from lockdowns in China that slowed the production of computer chips and other goods to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has limited gas and food availability.

At the same time, demand has been heady, boosted by government pandemic relief checks and a strong labor market. Businesses have been able to charge more for their limited supply, and consumer prices have been picking up sharply, climbing 8.6 percent over the year through May.

Research from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco released this week found that demand was driving about one-third of the current jump in inflation, while issues tied to supply or some ambiguous mix of supply-and-demand factors were driving about two-thirds.

That means that returning demand to more normal levels should help ease inflation somewhat, even if supply in key markets remain roiled. The Fed has been clear that it cannot directly lower oil and gas prices, for instance, because those costs turn more on the global supply than they do on domestic demand.

“There’s really not anything that we can do about oil prices,” Mr. Powell told senators on Wednesday. Still, he added later, “there is a job to moderating demand so that it can be in better balance with supply.”

But it also means that if the supply shortages that are driving so much of inflation today fail to ease, the Fed could need a more punishing response — one that weakens the economy drastically to bring demand in line — to return annual price increases to more normal 2 percent levels.

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