The U.S. Labor Department’s Consumer Price Index (CPI), a widely used metric to gauge rising costs of living, rose faster than expected in March to a four-decade high of 8.5% as supply-chain woes and the war in Ukraine pushed energy and food prices higher.
The headline CPI, which includes prices for all items basic for living such as food, housing, car, energy, consumer products, is now at its highest point since December 1981, the Labor Department said Tuesday. Analysts and economists had estimated an 8.4% inflation rate in March, according to the FactSet database.
Core inflation, which excludes seasonally volatile food and energy prices, rose 0.3% compared with the prior month, which was slower than the 0.5% expected by analysts.
The CPI report is closely followed by bitcoin (BTC) investors because the largest cryptocurrency by market value is seen as a hedge against inflation and currency devaluation.
Investors had sold off risk assets such as stocks and cryptocurrencies amid fear that a spike in inflation would prompt the Federal Reserve to accelerate monetary tightening and rate hikes.
Bitcoin (BTC) was changing hands around $40,509 as of press time.
"My take is that the Federal Reserve will see the new CPI numbers as a reinforcement to their plan in combating inflation," Prosper Trading Academy's Howard Greenberg said to CoinDesk.
"If [Fed governor Lael] Brainard shows signs of confidence that rate hikes and quantitative tightening remain on same schedule as she previously announced, it could give retail and institutions the confidence needed to return to the markets, including cryptocurrencies." Lael Brainard is scheduled to answer questions about inflation, interest rates and job market at 12:10 pm on Tuesday at the Wall Street Journal Jobs Summit.
Inflation in the U.S. was already at levels not seen in four decades, only to be exacerbated by supply chain disruptions and high energy prices last month because of Russia’s devastation in Ukraine.
Western countries led by the U.S. imposed wide-scale sanctions on Russian trade and banks after Russia, one of the globe’s largest exporters of commodities and natural resources, invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki warned Monday the Biden administration expected the March CPI headline inflation data to be “extraordinarily elevated” and blamed the war in Ukraine and Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying the spike was “due to Putin’s price hike.”
The large gap between the headline and core inflation figures (8.5% vs. 6.5% through the last 12 months) can be explained by the accelerated rise in food and energy prices.
The energy index rose 32% over the last year, and the food index increased 8.8%, the largest 12-month increase since the period ending May 1981.
Some analysts argue that March was the top for inflation and will slow in the coming months, although rising costs of living is expected to stay.
"Inflation likely peaked in March, with the biggest contributions coming from gasoline and food prices, which could stabilize in the next few months," Navy Federal Credit Union's corporate economist Robert Frick said. "But high inflation will be with us at least through the summer because increases in other prices, especially shelter and services, will be sticky."
UPDATE (19:35 UTC): This update includes new comment by analyst about inflation expectations for the next months.
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