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Has U.S. inflation peaked? Some economists think so — here’s why.

Inflation is top of mind in most American households, with more than 9 in 10 families telling CBS News that rising prices have posed a financial hardship or inconvenience. Yet consumers could soon get some relief, with economists predicting that inflation may have already peaked and could soon ease. 

The April inflation numbers, which are set to be released on Wednesday morning by the U.S. Department of Labor, are expected to show that prices rose 8.1% last month, which would be down from a 40-year high of 8.5% in March, according to data provider FactSet. Although inflation remains at levels not seen since the 1980s, some economists say such a dip could signal a broader decline in the months ahead.

Inflation has spiraled higher amid strong demand from consumers, supply-chain bottlenecks and rising energy prices, which have been impacted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as well as the economic rebound from the pandemic. These inflationary pressures have prompted the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates in a move to slow economic growth by dampening consumer spending and business investment, which would eventually lower prices. 

“There are signs that some of the more transitory parts of inflation are easing with gasoline prices, used car prices and global food commodity prices all falling in April,” said David Kelly, chief global strategist at JPMorgan Funds, in a May 9 research note. “[F]urther declines in year-over-year inflation are likely in the months ahead.”

Consumers are pulling back in some areas of spending as rising energy and housing costs have crimped their budgets, according to Vivek Pandya, lead analyst at Adobe Analytics, which on Wednesday will release its Digital Price Index, which tracks online spending and price increases. 

“All these factors are putting the consumer in a situation where they aren’t able to spend as freely in different categories like electronics and apparel,” he said. 

To be sure, it’s possible that inflation may have more room to run, especially with gas prices hitting a new record on Tuesday just as Americans are entering peak summer driving season. The national average price for a gallon of gas reached $4.37, according to AAA, eclipsing a previous record set in early March.

China’s latest COVID-19 lockdowns also could further obstruct the shipment of products to the U.S., leading to shortages and price hikes later this year, some economists warn.

“Not only are near-term pressures in the oil market still strong but spreading COVID-related lockdowns in China also threaten to amplify supply-chain snarls, keeping pressure on goods prices,” said Oxford Economics senior economist Bob Schwartz in an April research note. 

Here’s what economists say consumers can expect on the inflation front in major spending categories:

Gasoline and energy costs

Gas prices eased in April, which could help pare inflation in the Wednesday’s CPI report. For instance, the price of a gallon stood at $4.11 in mid-April, compared with a peak of $4.33 a gallon in early March.

But the question is whether May’s spike gas costs could again fuel a broader rise in inflation. A squeeze on oil refineries, which turn crude oil into gas and other products, is now pushing prices at the pump higher.   

Yet crude prices —by far the biggest factor affecting gas costs  — have eased, falling to $105 a barrel this week. Some of the price increases should “cool” by later this week, GasBuddy analyst Patrick De Haan predicts.

Groceries and food

Higher prices on aisle 10 — actually, in almost every aisle, according to some analysts. Consumers surveyed by Bank of America securities said they noticed the most dramatic price increases in April at grocery stores, followed by price hikes at restaurants and food delivery services. 

In March, Americans spent 10% more for food from grocery stores than a year ago, with beef prices rising 16%. Food prices may continue to be pushed higher due to the war in Ukraine, a major supplier of wheat and other agricultural products, as well as chemicals used for fertilizers and pesticides, experts say.

Cars

Consumers hunting for a vehicle may see some relief on the sticker price, with used car prices declining 1% in April compared with the prior month, according to Cox Automotive. That’s good news for consumers since soaring used car prices have been a major contributor to higher inflation.

But new car prices may show more strength than in March, according to FactSet. 

Housing

Renters may not see much of a break when it comes to rents, with FactSet noting that the tight rental market may continue to spark a rise in costs for April. 

Homebuyers are also facing higher costs due to rising mortgage rates and home prices. In April, average interest rates on a typical 30-year fixed mortgage were nearly 2 percentage points higher than a year ago, according to real estate data firm CoreLogic. That means someone buying a $429,000 house — the median price of a home, according to the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank — will pay an additional $5,640 per year in mortgage costs.


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