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Resurging US inflation puts Fed on track for more big rate hikes

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Red-hot United States (US) inflation is showing few signs of cooling, putting the Federal Reserve on track to continue its aggressive interest rate increases to help cool high prices that are challenging Joe Biden’s presidency.

The hoped-for signs of relief for American families did not materialise in May as consumer prices hit a new four-decade high, rising 8.6 per cent and topping what economists thought was the peak in March.

With Russia’s war on Ukraine continuing to pressure global fuel and food prices, and amid ongoing supply chain uncertainties due to COVID-19 lockdowns in Asia, analysts now say the expected easing of inflationary pressures will take much longer to materialise.

The US central bank already had signalled plans for more big increases in the benchmark borrowing rate this week and next month, but chances are rising that the Fed might have to be even more aggressive – which increases the risk the economy might tip into a recession.

The latest inflation report – the last major data point before the Fed’s policy meeting tomorrow and Wednesday – also douses hopes central bankers will be able to call a ceasefire in September ahead of key congressional elections, where Biden’s Democrats are widely expected to suffer damaging losses.

Prices continued to rise last month for a range of goods, including groceries, airline fares and used vehicles, setting new records in multiple categories, according to the Labor Department data.

Energy has soared 34.6 per cent over the past year, the fastest since September 2005, while food jumped 10.1 per cent, and the cost of fuel oil more than doubled, jumping 106.7 per cent, the largest increase in the history of the consumer price index (CPI), which dates to 1935.

The CPI surge “raises the probability of even more aggressive Fed rate hikes to tamp down on inflationary expectations”, said Berenberg Capital Markets’ Mickey Levy.

If the policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee decides on a giant step – three quarters of a point rather than the expected half-point increase – it would be the first 75 basis point rate hike since November 1994.

United States President Joe Biden meets with Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell in the Oval Office of the White House. PHOTO: AP