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Everyone uses the word t to describe high inflation for the recovery period from COVID-19: temporary.
Politicians use it, academics discuss it, and companies refer to it. The term was used largely by the Federal Reserve, the economic agent that tried to reassure Americans that the rapid pace of price increases would moderate over time.
The question is: How long will it take?
“I think the t-word shows that people have different definitions of the word ‘transition,'” Mark Bitzer, CEO of Whirlpool, told Yahoo Finance on October 22.
Merriam-Webster says the word means ‘brief duration’ or ‘not fixed’, which means there is no test exactly How long does something have to last before it can no longer be considered “temporary”.
But for Americans who have felt the impact of higher prices, nearly six months of high inflation have sparked some impatience with the use of the “tee.”
Where did the word “temporary” come from?
The word itself became a heavy talking point in the spring and summer of 2021.
Prices began to rise in the latter part of the spring, as economic re-opening opened the door to consumer spending. But the sudden and massive surge of demand could not meet the suppliers. The shortage of raw materials made it difficult to manufacture finished goods, and those that were finished could not be shipped amid bottlenecks in the ports.
The Federal Reserve, which is tasked with directing economic policy to deal with inflation and employment, called the pressures temporary. In April, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell warned of “upward pressure on prices from a rebound in spending,” especially with supply issues.
“However, these one-time increases in prices are likely to have only temporary effects on inflation,” Powell said on April 28.
How long until “transitional” becomes “fixed”?
Price pressures remained high through the summer and into the fall, with CPI readings remaining above 5% year over year. Another reading for inflation, the PCE index, remains above 4% year over year. For reference, the federal inflation target (measured in personal consumption expenditures) is 2%.
In the absence of smaller prints on inflation in the final months of 2021, the Fed’s tone is beginning to shift. Fed officials seem to acknowledge that inflation has lasted longer than originally expected.
“There is a general concern that this will continue for much longer,” Fed Governor Christopher Waller told Yahoo Finance in late August. “The supply bottlenecks we’re seeing aren’t unraveling as quickly as we thought, we’re seeing more wage pressures, and they’re starting to show up.”
In November, the Fed revised its policy statement to indicate that inflationary pressures are not “temporary” but are “expected to be temporary.” The change signals the view within the Federal Reserve that his call for temporary inflation may be wrong.
Will high inflation readings for a year still be ‘transient’?
The Fed seems to think so. In November, Powell said he could see bottlenecks persist “until next year” before fading out.
For businesses that have to raise prices and consumers facing higher price tags, a full year of higher inflation readings could have long-lasting effects.
“They don’t care about the temporary story. They care about what’s happening now,” Tim Dewey of SGH Macro Advisors said on November 3.
For Powell, the challenge is that people have different definitions of trans.
“It has become a word that has attracted a lot of attention and is probably distracting from our message, which we want to be as clear as possible,” Powell said on November 3.
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