A surge in prices in May delivered a blow to President Biden and underscored the immense challenge facing the Federal Reserve as inflation, which many economists had expected to show signs of cooling, instead reaccelerated to climb at its fastest pace since late 1981.
Consumer prices rose 8.6 percent from a year earlier and 1 percent from April — a monthly increase that was more rapid than economists had predicted and about triple the previous pace. The pickup partly reflected surging gas costs, but even with volatile food and fuel prices stripped out the climb was 0.6 percent, a brisk monthly rate that matched April’s reading.
Friday’s Consumer Price Index report offered more reason for worry than comfort for Fed officials, who are watching for signs that inflation is cooling on a monthly basis as they try to guide price increases back down to their goal. A broad array of products and services, including rents, gas, used cars and food, are becoming sharply more expensive, making this bout of inflation painful for consumers and suggesting that it might have staying power. Policymakers aim for 2 percent inflation over time using a different but related index, which is also elevated.
The quick pace of inflation increases the odds that the Fed, which is already trying to cool the economy by raising borrowing costs, will have to move more aggressively and inflict some pain to temper consumer and business demand. The central bank is widely expected to raise rates half a percentage point at its meeting next week and again in July. But Friday’s data prompted a number of economists to pencil in another big rate increase in September. A more active Fed would increase the chances of a marked pullback in growth or even a recession.