Pundits on TV and websites express amazement that today's CPI data show no change overall and only a .1% increase in the core rate. Writers on Cramer's site, experts on CNBC, and even Bill Gross all claim that government measures of inflation are silly and inaccurate. To them, it is obvious that prices are much higher than reported. Just look at medical care, gas prices, hamburger, or home prices.
That argument sure sounds good. It is easy to understand, and most people do not think it through any more. That means that for those willing to get a deeper understanding, there is real opportunity.
Let's look at some evidence and then try to approach the problem with an open mind.
There are several government indicators of inflation, including the CPI, the PPI, the PCE (focused on wage related costs) and the GDP price deflator. Greenspan favors the PCE, but the others all get some attention and each is a slightly different measure. They all show inflation as running about 2 - 2.5% This is not a bad reading. It is consistent with a healthy economy.
Another way of looking at this is by turning to the market. The Treasury now issues inflation-protected bonds. You can look at the difference between the rate for TIPS and the rate for other government bonds and find the expected inflation.
The result is similar to the inflation readings for the next ten years. This shows the verdict of one of the largest and most liquid markets -- hardly the picture of stagflation that some expect.
So what is wrong with the anecdotal story? Part II of this series will be the explanation.