By Marjorie L. Rand, CPA, CFP®, RICP®
Inflation, that economic term that strikes fear into the hearts of consumers and investors alike, is officially here to stay. Jerome Powell, the Chair of the Federal Reserve, said in a hearing before the Senate Banking Committee that it was time for the government to stop using the word “transitory” because it was misleading the public, giving people a false impression that there won’t be a permanent mark. (1)
Don’t let the panic-inducing headlines lead you to use dollar bills to light your fireplace. Rather, understand how global events impact the value of your money in order to better prepare for the future. Here are some reasons why inflation has increased in the past year and what it means for your long-term purchasing power.
What Is Inflation?
According to Investopedia, inflation is a decrease in the purchasing power of money, reflected in a general increase in the prices of goods and services in an economy. (2) It can be characterized as persistent or transitory. Transitory inflation (3) is temporary and happens when supply doesn’t meet demand. If left unhandled, it can turn into persistent inflation, (4) which results in a more permanent increase in prices due to a continuous mismatch in supply and demand.
The Consumer Price Index (CPI) is a common measure of inflation. The most recent CPI report from March 2022 suggests that inflation has risen an astounding 8.5% over the past year! (5) That is significantly higher than the typical 2% rise we see in an average year.
Why Is Inflation So High?
To better understand if inflation will last, let’s take a look at the factors contributing to its rise.
When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit and millions of Americans were furloughed or laid off, drastic economic measures were taken to keep the country afloat. The U.S. government instituted expansionary monetary and fiscal policies in order to pump money back into the economy, increasing the money supply at a rapid rate. It jumped from $15.5 trillion in February 2020 to $18.8 trillion in October 2020, an increase of over $3 trillion. (6)
Though experts agree that these drastic measures were necessary to keep the economy from collapsing, they also agree that the increase in money supply devalued the dollar, meaning it takes more dollars to buy the same item since each dollar is less valuable.
This issue is further compounded by the current trade deficit, which is sitting at a $182.4 billion (27%) year-to-date increase. (7) Because the U.S. buys (imports) more than it sells (exports), a devalued dollar relative to other countries’ currencies drives the cost of imported goods up even more. It’s tempting to write these issues off as fallout from the pandemic, but the trade deficit is not a new issue. In fact, the U.S. has seen a deficit every year since 1975. (8) This indicates that the rise of inflation is not a new issue either, it’s just been sped up and exacerbated by the increase in government spending in response to the pandemic.
Supply Chain Headaches
If there’s one thing that’s been in the news even more than inflation concerns, it’s supply chain disruptions. Since the vaccine rollouts and slow return to pre-pandemic life, companies have struggled to keep up with manufacturing and distributing goods. This is because many distribution centers cut their hours when the global economy came to a halt in anticipation of a huge drop in demand for consumer goods. The drop in demand, however, did not come.
As people across the globe spent days, then weeks, then months in their houses, demand skyrocketed for exercise equipment, home goods, and office supplies. Factories increased their output, but the distribution chains have struggled to get everything where they need to be.
Additionally, the increased production has also caused a shortage in raw materials, thereby exacerbating the gap between overall supply and demand for even basic items. As demand continues to outpace supply, prices are driven higher and higher.
Labor Shortages and Increasing Wages
Continued labor shortages are another factor driving inflation. In what is being called “The Great Resignation,” millions of workers across America have quit or considered quitting their jobs as they reevaluate the role that work plays in their lives. (9) As such, many companies are finding that they have to pay higher wages in order to attract and retain employees. These increased costs often get passed through to the customer in the form of increased prices for goods and services.
The flip side of the labor shortage issue is the passage of the $15 federal minimum wage. (10) Many states are following suit with plans to increase their respective minimum wage thresholds. So even if companies weren’t paying more for labor because of the struggle to find workers, they would still be paying more due to increasing minimum wage. Again, these increased costs will be passed through to consumers, and it will be more than just a transitory change in prices since the minimum wage laws are permanent.
How Long Will Inflation Last?
It’s tough to say exactly how long inflation will last, but based on these three variables, it could be a couple years before we return to the target rate of 2%. As our global economy shifts, trade alliances change, and we experience the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems to be an issue that will persist for the foreseeable future.
How Should You Respond to Inflation?
It’s understandable to be concerned about inflation. I get it. You’re likely wondering, “How will inflation impact my current finances?” And “What about my retirement?” It’s crucial to be realistic about how long inflation could impact your financial plan. As our client, we are here to help you explore different options in response to threats, like inflation, to your financial wellbeing. We approach these threats sensibly, realistically and effectively and are here to help our clients walk through times like these with clarity and confidence. If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to call me at (908)-895-2406 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About MargeMarjorie Rand is founder and financial advisor at Rand Financial Planning, a comprehensive, fee-only, fiduciary financial planning firm. Marge specializes in helping her clients plan for a secure retirement and navigate life’s many transitions through customized, tax-efficient retirement planning. She is passionate about empowering her clients to make the best financial decisions for their life and being by their side no matter what life throws at them. Marjorie spent many years as a CPA before founding Rand Financial Planning so she could be a go-to source for all her clients’ financial needs and help them avoid costly mistakes. She has a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Rutgers University and a Master of Science in Taxation from Fairleigh Dickinson University, along with the Retirement Income Certified Professional® (RICP®) and CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ certifications. When she’s not working, Marge enjoys boating, horseback riding, traveling, and hiking with her husband and her dog, Rangeley. To learn more about Marjorie, connect with her on LinkedIn.