Consumer prices edged up 0.1% in October, with shelter (rents) rising at the fastest pace since March 2008. Airfares also surged but have fallen a bit in the wake of Sandy as air carriers scrambled to recoup business lost during the devastating storm. Vehicle and energy prices dropped, a trend that should continue and help mitigate pricing pressures in the months to come. The overhang of oil production is particularly large and suggests some fairly substantial declines, barring another major conflict in the Middle East.
The drop in vehicle prices is more related to competition from abroad. European producers, in particular, have been increasing the number of vehicles they sell to dealers for test drives, and then selling those same vehicles at deep discounts as “nearly new” cars.
Hourly weekly earnings also fell during the month; that reflects the ongoing slack in labor markets and the recent shift in hiring to low-wage, part-time jobs. There may also have been a bit of a loss in hourly earnings associated with Sandy, but those distortions are more likely to show up in hours worked and average hourly earnings in the employment report for November.
Separately, unemployment claims surged 78,000 to 439,000 in the most recent week. Almost all of that increase can be attributed to Sandy; it represents a catch in claims that couldn’t be processed during the first week after the storm hit. Claims are expected to remain higher in response to Sandy in the weeks to come. Eventually, however, those losses will not only dissipate but could even drop as businesses reopen and rebuilding gets underway. Disasters like Sandy, which hit highly populated and well-insured areas, tend to act as a perverse stimulus to the economy as wealth is drained to repair and rebuild damaged properties.
Bottom Line: Consumer prices remain relatively tame, while the first wave of distortions in data associated with Sandy are hitting. This will initially make the economy look worse than it actually is.