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    About That “0 Percent” Inflation in July

    By Peter C. Earle

    On Wednesday, August 10th, the Bureau of Labor Statistics release of the July 2022 Consumer Price Index data showed a year-over-year change of 8.5 percent. That’s down from June’s 9.1 percent year-over-year number, but still at 40-year highs. The Biden administration, predictably, chose to seize upon the 0.0 percent month-over-month change between June and July. As the New York Post reported,

    “I just want to say a number: zero,” Biden said in the White House East Room…”Today, we received news that our economy had 0 percent inflation in the month of July — 0 percent,” Biden said. “Here’s what that means: While the price of some things go up — went up last month, the price of other things went down by the same amount. The result? Zero inflation last month.”

    It first bears mentioning that a view that this 0 percent number simply isn’t plausible has been voiced (loudly). My own investigation shows that since September 1971 there have been 205 month-over-month CPI releases. Fourteen of those, and four since 2010, have been flat: a 0 percent change from one month to the next. More than half of the largest monthly CPI changes – 14 of the top 25 – occurred in the troubled, highly inflationary period between 1971 and 1982. Two of the largest monthly changes occurred this year, one in 2021.

    With hundreds of price index constituents and plunging poll numbers, manipulation seems eminently likely to critics. With no prejudice against those views, I do not make that charge here. Rather, the nature of the artifice is gloss. Yes, it is true that gasoline prices have fallen significantly. In July 2022 the average price of a gallon of gasoline in the United States fell from $5.34 to $4.80. Yet even after that decline the price of gasoline is up 87 percent since the start of 2021.

    To consider the actual contours of the trumpeted “zero percent” change, below are the largest June to July 2022 decreases in price among CPI constituents according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (Because certain goods and services are broken into subcategories, some categorical redundancies may be present.)

    Goods/services July 2022 June 2022 June-July chg
    1 Unleaded Regular Gasoline -8.0% 10.1% -18.1%
    2 Gasoline, Unleaded Midgrade -6.5% 9.6% -16.1%
    3 Gasoline, Unleaded Premium -5.5% 8.7% -14.2%
    4 Frankfurters -6.0% 4.8% -10.8%
    5 Airline Fare -9.6% -0.2% -9.4%
    6 Margarine -0.8% 6.8% -7.6%
    7 Shelf Stable Fish and Seafood -3.3% 1.8% -5.1%
    8 Women’s Outerwear -3.2% 1.6% -4.8%
    9 Newspapers And Magazines -0.5% 4.2% -4.7%
    10 Audio Equipment -1.4% 3.2% -4.6%
    11 Ham Excluding Canned -0.8% 3.6% -4.4%
    12 Computer Software and Accessories -1.9% 2.3% -4.2%
    13 Ham -0.6% 3.4% -4.0%
    14 Frozen Non Carbonated Juices & Drinks -1.1% 2.4% -3.5%
    15 Other Linens -1.8% 1.6% -3.4%
    16 Girls apparel -3.8% -0.4% -3.4%
    17 Recreational Books -1.7% 1.6% -3.3%
    18 Tomatoes -2.4% 0.8% -3.2%
    19 Men’s furnishings -2.4% 0.8% -3.2%
    20 Peripheral Computer Equipment -1.8% 1.3% -3.1%
    21 Men’s Footwear -1.4% 1.7% -3.1%
    22 Other Furniture -4.3% -1.5% -2.8%
    23 Processed Fish and Seafood -1.3% 1.4% -2.7%
    24 Prepared Salads 0.7% 3.1% -2.4%
    25 Apples 0.0% 2.3% -2.3%
    26 Fresh Biscuits, Rolls, Muffins 1.2% 3.4% -2.2%
    27 Boys’ Apparel -2.0% 0.2% -2.2%
    28 Frozen & Refrigerated Bakery Products 0.7% 2.9% -2.2%
    29 Butter and Margarine 1.6% 3.7% -2.1%
    30 Dental Services -0.1% 2.0% -2.1%
    31 Frozen Fish & Seafood -0.1% 2.0% -2.1%
    32 Stationery, Stationery Supplies, Gift Wrap -2.6% -0.6% -2.0%
    33 Men’s suits, sport coats, and outerwear -1.6% 0.4% -2.0%
    34 Indoor Plants and Flowers -1.2% 0.7% -1.9%
    35 Non Electric Cookware and Tableware -0.7% 1.2% -1.9%
    36 Major Appliances -1.8% 0.0% -1.8%
    37 Other Condiments 0.2% 2.0% -1.8%
    38 Motor Oil, Coolant, and Fluids 0.8% 2.6% -1.8%
    39 Boys & Girls Footwear -0.9% 0.8% -1.7%
    40 Fresh Cakes & Cupcakes 1.2% 2.9% -1.7%
    41 Other Appliances -0.8% 0.8% -1.6%
    42 Lodging Incl Hotels & Motels -2.4% -0.8% -1.6%
    43 Flour and Prepared Flour Mixes 4.0% 5.5% -1.5%
    44 Sewing Machines, Fabric and Supplies 0.4% 1.9% -1.5%
    45 Eyeglasses & Eye Care -0.8% 0.7% -1.5%
    46 Motor Vehicle Body Work 0.3% 1.8% -1.5%
    47 Parking and Other Fees -0.4% 1.1% -1.5%
    48 Lodging Away from Home -2.0% -0.7% -1.3%
    49 Motor Vehicle Maintenance & Servicing 0.7% 2.0% -1.3%
    50 Lettuce -1.0% 0.3% -1.3%
    51 Butter 1.6% 2.9% -1.3%
    52 Sports equipment -1.1% 0.1% -1.2%
    53 Nursing Home & Adult Day Service 0.1% 1.3% -1.2%
    54 Sweet Rolls, Coffeecakes, Doughnuts 0.5% 1.7% -1.2%
    55 Fish and Seafood -0.6% 0.5% -1.1%
    56 Frozen & Freeze Dried Prepared Foods 1.9% 2.9% -1.0%
    57 Child Care and Nursery School -0.2% 0.8% -1.0%
    58 Women’s dresses -3.3% -2.3% -1.0%
    59 Parking Fees and Tolls 0.2% 1.2% -1.0%
    60 Floor coverings 0.1% 1.0% -0.9%
    61 Pets, Pet Supplies, Accessories 0.0% 0.9% -0.9%
    62 Uncooked Beef Steaks -1.0% -0.1% -0.9%
    63 Canned Vegetables 1.1% 2.0% -0.9%
    64 Clocks, Lamps, and Decorator Items -0.3% 0.5% -0.8%
    65 Fresh Whole Milk -0.7% 0.0% -0.7%
    66 Women’s Suits and Separates -1.2% -0.5% -0.7%
    67 Frozen Vegetables 0.7% 1.3% -0.6%
    68 Tires 0.1% 0.7% -0.6%
    69 Cable, Satellite Television, Radio Service -0.6% 0.0% -0.6%
    70 Pork Roasts Steaks and Ribs -0.5% 0.1% -0.6%
    71 Other Miscellaneous Foods 1.8% 2.4% -0.6%
    72 Men’s apparel -1.4% -0.8% -0.6%
    73 Fresh & Frozen Chicken Parts 1.1% 1.7% -0.6%
    74 Breakfast Cereals 2.0% 2.5% -0.5%
    75 Frozen Fruits and Vegetables 0.5% 1.0% -0.5%
    76 Tools, Hardware and Supplies -0.1% 0.4% -0.5%
    77 Beer, Ale, and Malt Beverages at Home 0.3% 0.8% -0.5%
    78 Other Meats 0.5% 1.0% -0.5%
    79 Oranges, including Tangerines 0.2% 0.7% -0.5%
    80 Motor Vehicle Repair 1.7% 2.1% -0.4%
    81 Fresh Milk Other than Whole 0.5% 0.9% -0.4%
    82 Wine At Home 0.1% 0.5% -0.4%
    83 Services By Other Medical Professionals -0.3% 0.1% -0.4%
    84 Intracity Transportation 0.4% 0.8% -0.4%
    85 Other Uncooked Poultry including Turkey 0.6% 1.0% -0.4%
    86 Miscellaneous Household Products 1.0% 1.4% -0.4%
    87 Jewelry 1.6% 2.0% -0.4%
    88 Poultry 1.2% 1.5% -0.3%
    89 Chicken 1.4% 1.7% -0.3%
    90 Wine away from Home 0.0% 0.3% -0.3%
    91 Cigarettes 0.3% 0.6% -0.3%
    92 Distilled Spirits Away From Home -0.1% 0.1% -0.2%
    93 Landline Telephone Services -0.1% 0.1% -0.2%
    94 Intracity Mass Transit -0.2% 0.0% -0.2%
    95 Cakes, Cupcakes and Cookies 1.7% 1.8% -0.1%
    96 Pet Food 1.2% 1.3% -0.1%
    97 Rent of Primary Residence 0.7% 0.8% -0.1%
    98 Women’s Footwear 0.3% 0.4% -0.1%
    99 Fresh Vegetables 0.6% 0.7% -0.1%
    100 Owners Equivalent Rent of Residences 0.6% 0.7% -0.1%
    101 College Tuition and Fees 0.2% 0.3% -0.1%
    102 Haircuts and Other Personal Care Services 0.2% 0.3% -0.1%
    103 New Trucks 0.6% 0.7% -0.1%
    104 Owner Equivalent Rent Primary Residence 0.6% 0.7% -0.1%

    The following CPI constituents saw price increases from June to July 2022, starting with the largest month-to-month percentage change.

    Goods/services July 2022 June 2022 June-July chg
    1 Window Coverings 4.0% -3.9% 7.9%
    2 Photographic Equipment 5.6% -0.7% 6.3%
    3 Peanut Butter 3.5% -2.0% 5.5%
    4 Uncooked Other Beef and Veal 1.8% -1.9% 3.7%
    5 Pork Chops 2.3% -1.4% 3.7%
    6 Crackers Bread & Cracker Products 3.8% 0.5% 3.3%
    7 Fats and Oils including Peanut Butter 4.0% 0.8% 3.2%
    8 Other Fresh Fruits 0.0% -3.1% 3.1%
    9 Women’s Underwear, Nightwear 0.0% -2.9% 2.9%
    10 Dried Beans Peas & Lentils 1.7% -1.0% 2.7%
    11 Bacon, Breakfast Sausage, & Related 1.9% -0.8% 2.7%
    12 Laundry Equipment 1.7% -0.9% 2.6%
    13 Video Discs and Other Media 2.9% 0.3% 2.6%
    14 Rice 1.4% -1.1% 2.5%
    15 Bacon & Related Products 1.4% -1.1% 2.5%
    16 Potatoes 4.6% 2.1% 2.5%
    17 Carbonated Drinks 2.3% -0.1% 2.4%
    18 Breakfast Sausage & Related Products 2.6% 0.2% 2.4%
    19 Bread Other than White 3.5% 1.3% 2.2%
    20 Olives, Pickles, Relishes 3.0% 0.9% 2.1%
    21 Sauces and Gravies 3.2% 1.1% 2.1%
    22 Ship Fare 0.0% -2.1% 2.1%
    23 Admission to Sporting Events 4.9% 2.9% 2.0%
    24 Telephone Hardware, Calculators, Etc. 0.9% -1.1% 2.0%
    25 Salt and Other Seasonings and Spices 2.0% 0.1% 1.9%
    26 Coffee 2.7% 0.9% 1.8%
    27 Men’s pants and shorts 0.1% -1.7% 1.8%
    28 Toys, Games, Hobbies, Playground Equip. 1.1% -0.6% 1.7%
    29 Citrus Fruits -1.3% -3.0% 1.7%
    30 Men’s Shirts and Sweaters -1.3% -3.0% 1.7%
    31 Fresh Fruit -0.3% -1.9% 1.6%
    32 Delivery Services 0.7% -0.8% 1.5%
    33 Roasted coffee 2.6% 1.2% 1.4%
    34 Other Beverage Materials Including Tea 2.4% 1.0% 1.4%
    35 Spices, Seasonings, Condiments, Sauces 2.3% 0.9% 1.4%
    36 Care of Invalids and Elderly at Home 1.5% 0.1% 1.4%
    37 State Motor Vehicle Registration, License 1.4% 0.0% 1.4%
    38 Candy and Chewing Gum 2.0% 0.7% 1.3%
    39 Televisions -0.2% -1.5% 1.3%
    40 Canned Fruits 1.1% -0.2% 1.3%
    41 Instant & Freeze Dried Coffee 2.3% 1.0% 1.3%
    42 Bread 2.8% 1.6% 1.2%
    43 Toys 0.5% -0.6% 1.1%
    44 Vehicle Parts and Equipment 0.4% -0.7% 1.1%
    45 Watches 1.2% 0.1% 1.1%
    46 Baby Food 2.1% 1.1% 1.0%
    47 Sports Vehicles Including Bicycles 0.4% -0.6% 1.0%
    48 Pet Services 0.3% -0.7% 1.0%
    49 Processed Fruits and Vegetables 2.2% 1.3% 0.9%
    50 Uncooked Ground Beef 0.8% -0.1% 0.9%
    51 Household Paper Products 3.1% 2.2% 0.9%
    52 Other Intercity Transportation 0.7% -0.2% 0.9%
    53 Other Bakery Products 2.0% 1.2% 0.8%
    54 Financial Services 0.3% -0.5% 0.8%
    55 Pork 0.9% 0.1% 0.8%
    56 Soups 2.8% 2.0% 0.8%
    57 Distilled Spirits 0.8% 0.1% 0.7%
    58 Housing at School, excluding Board 0.8% 0.1% 0.7%
    59 Vehicle Accessories Other Than Tires 0.7% 0.0% 0.7%
    60 Beer, Ale, Etc. (Away From Home) 0.9% 0.2% 0.7%
    61 Video Discs and Other Media 1.7% 1.0% 0.7%
    62 Club Dues & Fees for Sports and Exercise 0.4% -0.3% 0.7%
    63 Whiskey at Home 0.6% -0.1% 0.7%
    64 Inpatient Hospital Services 0.6% -0.1% 0.7%
    65 Uncooked Beef Roasts -1.3% -2.0% 0.7%
    66 Fresh Whole Chicken 1.9% 1.2% 0.7%
    67 Sugar and Artificial Sweeteners 2.2% 1.6% 0.6%
    68 Living Room, Kitchen, Etc. Furniture 2.7% 2.1% 0.6%
    69 Cosmetics, Perfume, Bath, Nail Prep 0.8% 0.2% 0.6%
    70 Veterinarian Services 0.8% 0.2% 0.6%
    71 Distilled Spirits at Home 0.7% 0.1% 0.6%
    72 Hospital Services 0.6% 0.0% 0.6%
    73 Admission to Movies & Concerts 1.5% 0.9% 0.6%
    74 Lunch Meats 1.1% 0.6% 0.5%
    75 Outdoor Equipment and Supplies 0.3% -0.2% 0.5%
    76 Apparel Services 1.5% 1.0% 0.5%
    77 Beef And Veal -0.1% -0.6% 0.5%
    78 Fresh Fish and Seafood 0.1% -0.4% 0.5%
    79 Outpatient Hospital Services 0.5% 0.0% 0.5%
    80 Admissions 2.1% 1.7% 0.4%
    81 Meats 0.4% 0.0% 0.4%
    82 Funeral Expenses 0.5% 0.1% 0.4%
    83 Bananas 0.9% 0.5% 0.4%
    84 Salad Dressing 2.4% 2.0% 0.4%
    85 Cookies 1.7% 1.3% 0.4%
    86 Audio Discs, Tapes and Other Media 0.6% 0.3% 0.3%
    87 Other Video Equipment -2.0% -2.3% 0.3%
    88 New Cars 0.8% 0.6% 0.2%
    89 Other Fresh Vegetables 0.5% 0.3% 0.2%
    90 Rental Of Video, Audio Discs 0.0% -0.2% 0.2%
    91 Prescription Drugs 0.3% 0.1% 0.2%
    92 Physicians Services 0.3% 0.1% 0.2%
    93 Womens Apparel -1.2% -1.4% 0.2%
    94 White Bread 2.0% 1.8% 0.2%
    95 Nonfrozen Noncarbonated Drinks 1.5% 1.4% 0.1%
    96 Nonprescription Drugs 1.3% 1.2% 0.1%
    97 Hair, Dental, Shaving, Care Products 1.3% 1.2% 0.1%
    98 Music Instruments and Accessories 0.0% -0.1% 0.1%
    99 Wireless telephone services 0.0% -0.1% 0.1%
    100 Elementary & High School Tuition & Fees 0.6% 0.5% 0.1%
    101 Bedroom Furniture 1.2% 1.1% 0.1%

    Two particularly noteworthy features should be clear. First, that the changes in the general price level remain extraordinarily broad. We see not just increases in food and energy, but in services, clothing, events, consumer non-durables, and beyond. Additionally, the complementary nature of many goods likely mitigates the benefit of certain declines in price. Labor Day BBQers will note that rolls and frankfurters have declined in price, but pickles, noncarbonated beverages, and household paper products (plates, cups, etc.) have risen in price. Gasoline prices, still high, have declined. But the cost to access destinations, such as sporting events, movies, and gym memberships, have continued ascending. The decline in gasoline prices is a welcome development for individuals who drive, but doesn’t help the working poor when within the same index are increases in the cost of intercity transportation.

    American consumers don’t purchase or eat the CPI. Households consume preferred items in specific quantities to meet their needs within the confines of budget and income restrictions. If there happens to be an individual or family subsisting exclusively on snacks, college textbooks, household cleaning supplies, and postage – some of the very few goods that actually saw a 0 percent change in price from June to July – they are at least treading water. Even for an administration desperate for good news, touting a meaningless statistical aberration as an achievement is a pitiful turn.

    Peter C. Earle

    Peter C. Earle

    Peter C. Earle is an economist and writer who joined AIER in 2018. Prior to that he spent over 20 years as a trader and analyst at a number of securities firms and hedge funds in the New York metropolitan area, as well as running a gaming and cryptocurrency consultancy. His research focuses on financial markets, monetary policy, the economics of games, and problems in economic measurement. He has been quoted by the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Reuters, CNBC, Grant’s Interest Rate Observer, NPR, and in numerous other media outlets and publications. Pete holds an MA in Applied Economics from American University, an MBA (Finance), and a BS in Engineering from the United States Military Academy at West Point. Follow him on Twitter.

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