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The biggest surprise in the recent inflation numbers has been the surge in the PCE measure of hospital services costs, where the year-over-year rate has jumped to 3.8% in February, an eight-year high, from just 1.3% in September.
We already have a pretty good idea of what happened to consumers' spending in March, following Friday's GDP release, so the single most important number in today's monthly personal income and spending report, in our view, is the hospital services component of the deflator.
The Fed will do nothing and say little that's new after its meeting today. The data on economic activity have been mixed since the March meeting, when rates were hiked and the economic forecasts were upgraded, largely as a result of the fiscal stimulus.
The FOMC did the minimum expected of it yesterday, raising rates by 25bp--with a 20bp increase in IOER--and dropping one of its dots for 2019.
At the October FOMC meeting, policymakers softened their view on the threat posed by the summer's market turmoil and the slowdown in China, dropping September's stark warning that "Recent global economic and financial developments may restrain economic activity somewhat and are likely to put further downward pressure on inflation in the near term." Instead, the October statement merely said that the committee is "monitoring global economic and financial developments."
In the wake of April's 0.2% increase in real consumers' spending, and the upward revisions to the first quarter numbers, we now think that second quarter spending is on course to rise at an annualized rate of about 3.5%.
Yesterday's final PMI data added to the evidence that the EZ economy was firing on all cylinders at the end of last year. The composite PMI in the euro area rose to an 11-year high of 58.5 in December, from 57.5 in November, in line with the initial estimate.
Our Chief Eurozone Economist, Claus Vistesen, is covering the Italian situation in detail in his daily Monitor but it's worth summarizing the key points for U.S. investors here.
The Eurozone inflation data have been relatively calm in the past six months. The headline rate has been stable at about 1.5%, and the core rate has fluctuated closely around 1%.
French business sentiment cooled marginally at the end of Q3. The headline manufacturing confidence index dipped to 110 in September, from 111 in August, though the overall business sentiment gauge was unchanged at 110.
The January core CPI numbers are consistent with our view that the U.S. faces bigger upside inflation risks than markets and the Fed believe.
We're expecting the April ISM report today to bring yet more evidence that the manufacturing cycle is peaking, though we remain of the view that the next cyclical downturn is still some way off.
All eyes today will be on the core PCE deflator for January, following the unexpectedly large 0.3% increase in the core CPI.
Core PPI inflation has risen relentlessly, though not rapidly, over the past two-and-a-half years.
We'd be surprised to see a repeat today of August's very modest 0.08% increase in the core CPI.
Core inflation probably will remain close to June's 2.3% rate for the next few months.
It's tempting to conclude that the pick-up in year over-year growth in average weekly wages, excluding bonuses, to a three-year high of 3.1% in July, from 2.8% in June, signals that employees' bargaining power has strengthened and that a sustained wage recovery now is under way.
Today's February CPI report is very unlikely to repeat January's surprise, when the core index was reported up 0.3%, a tenth more than expected.
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