September 2014 CPI Annual Inflation Rate Unchanged, Social Security COLA for 2015 Will Be 1.7%

October 22nd, 2014
in aa syndication, prices - ppi, cpi, etc

by Doug Short and

The September 2014 Consumer Price Index (CPI-U) year-over-year inflation rate moderated. Energy prices decreased whilst food and shelter increased countering energy's decline. The annual core inflation rate remains under the targets set by the Federal Reserve.

Follow up:

 

The CPI for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W), which is used to calculate Social Security cost-of-living-adjustments, rose 0.1%, which was enough to ensure that the 2015 COLA will be 1.7%. From the Social Security Administration:

Monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for nearly 64 million Americans will increase 1.7 percent in 2015, the Social Security Administration announced today.

The 1.7 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) will begin with benefits that more than 58 million Social Security beneficiaries receive in January 2015.  Increased payments to more than 8 million SSI beneficiaries will begin on December 31, 2014. The Social Security Act ties the annual COLA to the increase in the Consumer Price Index as determined by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Some other changes that take effect in January of each year are based on the increase in average wages.  Based on that increase, the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax (taxable maximum) will increase to $118,500 from $117,000.  Of the estimated 168 million workers who will pay Social Security taxes in 2015, about 10 million will pay higher taxes because of the increase in the taxable maximum. 

Information about Medicare changes for 2015 is available at www.Medicare.gov

The Social Security Act provides for how the COLA is calculated.  To read more, please visit www.socialsecurity.gov/cola

The Consumer Price Index (CPI-U) year-over-year inflation rate was unchanged at 1.7%. Year-over-Year core inflation (CPI less food and energy) also was unchanged at 1.7%. The market expected:

month over month change  Consensus Range Consensus  Actual 
CPI-U  -0.3 % to 0.1 %
0.0%  +0.1%
 CPI-U less food and energy 0.1 % to 0.3 % 0.1%   +0.1%


Unadjusted CPI-U - Year-over-Year Change (blue line, left axis) and Month-over-Month Change (red line, right axis)

The Producer Price Index annual rate of inflation showed finished goods fell 0.2% to 1.6% in September 2014. The CPI rate of inflation is normally higher than the PPI.

As a generalization – inflation accelerates as the economy heats up, while inflation rate falling could be an indicator that the economy is cooling. However, inflation does not correlate well to the economy – and cannot be used as a economic indicator.

Energy commodities by far was the major influence on this month’s CPI.

The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) increased 0.1 percent in September on a seasonally adjusted basis, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Over the last 12 months, the all items index increased 1.7 percent before seasonal adjustment.

Increases in shelter and food indexes outweighed declines in energy indexes to result in the seasonally adjusted all items increase. The food index rose 0.3 percent as five of the six major grocery store food group indexes increased. The energy index declined 0.7 percent as the indexes for gasoline, electricity, and fuel oil all fell.

The index for all items less food and energy increased 0.1 percent in September. Along with the shelter index, the index for medical care increased, and the indexes for alcoholic beverages and for personal care advanced slightly. Several indexes were unchanged, and the indexes for airline fares and for used cars and trucks declined in September.

The all items index increased 1.7 percent over the last 12 months, the same increase as for the 12 months ending August. The 12-month change in the index for all items less food and energy also remained at 1.7 percent. The 12-month change in the shelter index has been gradually increasing, and reached 3.0 percent for the first time since January 2008. The food index has also risen 3.0 percent over the span, while the energy index has declined 0.6 percent.

Historically, the CPI-U general index tends to correlate over time with the CPI-U’s food index. The current situation is putting an upward pressure on the CPI.

CPI-U Index compared to the Food sub-Index of CPI-U

Notice the gap in the above graphic between the CPI and Food – historically this gap has always closed when the knock-on effect from higher food prices into other CPI components moderates.

The Federal Reserve has argued that energy inflation automatically slows the economy without having to intervene with its monetary policy tools. This is the primary reason the Fed wants to exclude energy from analysis of consumer price increases (the inflation rate).

In the above chart – the green boxes are significant elements moderating inflation, while the red boxed items are significant elements fueling inflation.

The graph below looks at the different price changes seen by the BEA in this PCE release versus the BEA’s GDP and BLS’ Consumer Price Index (CPI).

Year-over-Year Change – PCE’s Price Index (blue line) versus CPI-U (red line) versus GDP Deflator (green line)

Detailed Analysis

The first chart is an overlay of Headline CPI and Core CPI (the latter excludes Food and Energy) since the turn of the century. I've highlighted 2 to 2.5 percent range, which the Federal Reserve currently targets for the CPI's cousin index, the BEA's Personal Consumptions Expenditures (PCE) price index.

The next chart shows both series since 1957, which was the first time the government began tracking the core inflation metric.

Click to View

In the wake of the Great Recession, two percent has been the Fed's target for core inflation. However, at their December 2012 FOMC meeting, the inflation ceiling was raised to 2.5% while their accommodative measures (low Fed Funds Rate and quantitative easing) are in place.

Federal Reserve policy, which has historically focused on core inflation, and especially the core Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE), remains slightly below the target range of 2 to 2.5 percent.

Caveats on the Use of the Consumer Price Index

Econintersect has performed several tests on this series and finds it fairly representative of price changes (inflation). However, the headline rate is an average – and will not correspond to the price changes seen by any specific person or on a particular subject.

Although the CPI represents the costs of some mythical person. Each of us need to provide a multiplier to the BLS numbers to make this index representative of our individual situation. This mythical person envisioned spending pattern would be approximately:

The average Joe Sixpack budgets to spend his entire paycheck or retirement income – so even small changes have a large impact to a budget.

The graph above demonstrates that fuel costs, medical care, and school costs are increasing at a much faster pace than the headline CPI-U.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has compiled CPI data since 1913, and numbers are conveniently available from the FRED repository (here). 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 (and Nobel laureate) 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.

Click to ViewClick for a larger image

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).

Click to View
Click for a larger image

Because of the nuances in determining the month-over-month index values, the year-over-year or annual change in the Consumer Price Index is preferred for comparisons.

Econintersect has analyzed both food and energy showing that food moves synchronously with core.









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