Inflation in the United States rose sharply again in July, the Federal Reserve’s preferred measure of prices showed, a pandemic-related jump that’s expected to fade but will keep pressure on policymakers until it does.
The Personal Consumption Expenditures index, the measure of price gains that the Fed uses as its official target, rose 4.2 percent last month compared with a year earlier, the Commerce Department said on Friday. The increase was higher than the 4.1 percent jump that economists in a Bloomberg survey had anticipated, and the fastest pace since 1991.
The measure climbed 0.4 percent from June, in line with a 0.4 percent rise projected by economists.
The index, which is based on household spending on goods and services, was released the same day as an annual gathering of economists and central bankers, where Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, is expected to speak about the state of the economy. The Fed is considering when and how to begin slowing its large-scale bond purchases, its first step toward a more normal policy setting as the economy heals.
“The Fed has to show patience in the face of the inflation we have,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thorton. “The data is more backward than forward looking, and the course of the virus determines the course of the economy.”
Personal income increased 1.1 percent in July from June, a figure bolstered by reopening businesses and the Child Tax Credit payments created as part of the American Rescue Plan.
During a July meeting, Fed officials debated over when to slow bond purchases, with some members arguing that it should be done soon to guard against the risk of higher inflation. Others argued for a slower process, stressing that rising Delta variant coronavirus cases posed risks to the economic outlook.
The Fed is holding interest rates near zero, and officials have suggested that they may favor raising interest rates by late 2022 or — more popularly — 2023. They would like to see the labor market return to full employment before raising rates.
Other measures of inflation have also moved up this year. The Consumer Price Index, a related gauge that comes out earlier in the month, climbed 5.4 percent in July compared with a year earlier. Wage increases also offer signals about the future of inflation. Average hourly earnings rose 4 percent in July from a year earlier, and wages for nonsupervisory and production workers — which can give a clearer reading on what’s happening for typical workers — have climbed 4.7 percent over the past year.
“The economy is still recalibrating, which might take longer due to the resurgence of Covid,” said Lindsey Piegza, chief economist for Stifel Financial. “As we look forward, there are risks that remain that could exacerbate the trend of rising costs.”
Expectations for what Jerome H. Powell, the chair of the Federal Reserve, will say on Friday as he addresses the central bank’s most important annual gathering have changed drastically over the course of a few weeks.
Investors initially expected Mr. Powell to use his remarks at the Jackson Hole economic symposium to lay out the Fed’s plan for “tapering” — or slowing down — a large-scale bond buying program it has been using to support the economy. Fed officials are debating the timing of such a move, which will be their first step toward a more normal policy setting.
But after minutes from the central bank’s July meeting suggested that the discussion remained far from resolved, and as the Delta variant pushes coronavirus infections higher and threatens the economic outlook, few now expect a clear announcement, The New York Times’s Jeanna Smialek reports.
Mr. Powell’s speech, which will be virtual, could instead give him a chance to explain how the Fed is thinking about Delta variant risks, recent rapid inflation and labor market progress — and how all three square with the central bank’s policy approach.
The Fed is buying $120 billion in government-backed bonds each month, and it has kept its main interest rate near zero since March 2020. Both policies make borrowing cheap, fueling spending by businesses and households and bolstering the labor market.
Officials have clearly linked their interest rate plans to their new framework: They said in September that they would not lift rates until the job market reached full employment. Bond-buying ties back less directly, but it serves as a signal of the Fed’s continued patience.
Mr. Powell used his remarks at last year’s conference to announce that Fed officials would no longer raise interest rates to cool off the economy just because joblessness was falling and inflation was expected to heat up. They first wanted proof that prices were climbing sustainably, and they would welcome gains slightly above their 2 percent goal.
He was laying groundwork for a far more patient approach, acknowledging the grim reality that across advanced economies, interest rates, growth and inflation had spent the 21st century slipping lower in a strength-sapping downward spiral. The goal was to stop the decline.
But a year later, that backdrop has shifted, at least superficially. Big government spending in response to the pandemic has pushed consumption and growth higher in the United States, and inflation has rocketed to levels not seen in more than a decade. The labor market is swiftly healing, though it has yet to fully recover.
As the economy rebounds, the Fed’s new framework is facing its first real test — and what central bankers do next could determine how transformative it proves. Withdrawing policy support too late could cause economic or financial imbalances, critics warn, but moving too soon could cause investors to question the Fed’s commitment to building an inclusive labor market and stabilizing inflation trends over the longer run.
Mr. Powell will speak at 10 a.m. and we’ll carry his comments here live.
The wide range of recent cyberattack targets appears to reflect an increasingly aggressive campaign by Chinese government hackers: China’s premier spy agency is reaching beyond its own ranks to recruit from a vast pool of private-sector talent.
This new group of hackers has made China’s state spying machine stronger, more sophisticated and more unpredictable. Sponsored but not necessarily micromanaged by Beijing, this new breed of hacker attacks government targets and private companies alike, mixing traditional espionage with outright fraud and other crimes for profit, Paul Mozur and Chris Buckley report for The New York Times.
Chinese hackers with links to state security demanded ransom in return for not releasing a company’s computer source code, according to an indictment released by the U.S. Department of Justice last year. Another group of hackers in southwest China mixed cyber raids on Hong Kong democracy activists with fraud on gaming websites, another indictment asserted.
Investigators believe these groups have been responsible for some big recent data breaches:
China’s tactics changed after Xi Jinping, the country’s top leader, transferred more hacking responsibility to the Ministry of State Security from the People’s Liberation Army following a slew of sloppy attacks and a reorganization of the military.
The ministry projects an image of remorseless loyalty to the Communist Party in Beijing, but its hacking operations can act like local franchises. Groups often act on their own agendas, sometimes including sidelines in commercial cybercrime, experts said.
The message: “We’re paying you to do work from 9 to 5 for the national security of China,” said Dmitri Alperovitch, the chairman of Silverado Policy Accelerator, a nonprofit geopolitical think tank. “What you do with the rest of your time, and with the tools and access you have, is really your business.”