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Why Some Economists Think the Fed Has Already Won Its War Against Inflation


Key Takeaways

  • Some economists think inflation will return to the Federal Reserve’s desired 2% annual rate next year.
  • Falling oil, car and housing costs could contribute to cooling inflation.
  • Not all economists are convinced, with others thinking inflation could be more stubborn to tame.

If you’re tired of rapidly rising prices—and who isn’t—it might be almost time to celebrate the demise of high inflation.

Inflation will fall rapidly next year and “core” inflation will be back down to the Federal Reserve’s desired 2% annual rate by the summer, down from its September rate of 4.1% as measured by the Consumer Price Index, James Knightley, chief international economist at ING, forecast in a commentary Thursday. Economists at Goldman Sachs were nearly as optimistic, predicting this week that core inflation will hit the significant 2% mark by the end of 2024.

If those forecasts come true, household budgets could get relief on two fronts. It would signal the end of the rapid cost-of-living increases over the past few years, and the upward pressure on interest rates for mortgages, credit cards, and all kinds of consumer loans would ease. That’s because the Federal Reserve, which has boosted its benchmark interest rate to a 22-year high in an effort to curtail inflation, could declare victory and begin to reverse its rate hikes.

“We are increasingly confident that inflationary pressures will continue to subside and this means that the Federal Reserve will not need to raise interest rates any further,” Knightley wrote. 

Here’s why economists think inflation is on its way out:

Supply Chains Have Healed 

A big part of the reason inflation surged to a 40-year high of 9.1% in June 2022 was that the pandemic disrupted factories and transportation, leading to shortages and shipping delays. 

Those problems have been history for months now, and the return to normal is still putting downward pressure on prices, according to an analysis by Goldman Sachs chief economist Jan Hatzius and other economists at the investment bank.

Gas Prices Are Falling

 A big reason the annual inflation rate stubbornly rose in August was a surge in gasoline prices—and that’s now reversed itself. 

A gallon of gas costs $3.39 a gallon on average nationally according to Gasbuddy, its lowest since March and down from its recent peak of $3.85 in mid-September.

That’s likely to push inflation down since gas prices are such a big contributor to inflation measures like the CPI, Knightley wrote.

Cars Could Get Cheaper

Prices for new and used cars—which surged during the pandemic—are also likely to fall, Knightley said. The Fed’s rate hikes have pushed up interest rates on car loans to the point where hardly anyone can afford to buy them, and that will likely force dealers to cut prices. 

Housing Inflation is Tamer

Housing costs are usually the largest part of household budgets and also the biggest contributors to measures of inflation. Increases in home prices and rent during the pandemic era helped push inflation to its sky-high peak last year.

Both home prices and rent have risen at more modest rates lately. Rents, for instance, rose 3.2% over the 12 months ending in October, much less than the 16.1% annual increase in February 2022, according to Zillow’s observed rent index.

The spike in mortgage rates from the Fed’s anti-inflation campaign has made homebuying all but unaffordable, putting downward pressure on prices. Even though costs are still rising due to the low supply of homes for sale, the wild price spikes of the pandemic era are over.

“We don’t think the last mile of disinflation will be particularly hard,” Hatzius wrote.

Not Everyone is Convinced

Economic predictions are notoriously hard to get right, however, and other forecasters believe inflation will be more stubborn. 

An important measure of inflation, which tracks the cost of services other than housing, has barely budged from its peak and was running at 4.4% as of September, economists at Wells Fargo noted in a commentary Thursday.

“While we anticipate inflation will recede further, additional progress likely will prove slower-going than it has over the past year,” they wrote.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.