Consumer inflation expectations fall to new low in poll

Matthew Boesler

American consumers’ expectations for inflation three years ahead fell last month to the lowest level in records going back to June 2013, according to a monthly Federal Reserve Bank of New York survey released last week.

The median respondent to the New York Fed’s January Survey of Consumer Expectations predicted annual consumer price inflation three years from now would be 2.5 percent, down from 2.8 percent in the December poll. Median expected inflation one year ahead fell to a record-low 2.4 percent, from 2.5 percent the month before.

“Today’s inflation expectations data from the New York Fed further diminish the already-low odds that the FOMC will tighten policy anytime soon,” Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at JP Morgan Chase & Co., wrote in a note to clients, referring to the policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee. U.S. central bank officials “are likely to be much more reactive to declines in survey-based measures,” than in market-based gauges of future price pressures, he said.

Consumers reduced expectations for inflation in the prices of gasoline, medical care and college tuition over the next year, but anticipated slightly faster inflation in the prices of food and rent, the survey results showed.

The data release follows a Jan. 26-27 meeting at which Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen and her colleagues on the FOMC left the target range for the benchmark federal funds rate unchanged at 0.25 percent to 0.5 percent, after raising it in December for the first time since 2006. Declines in oil prices and global stock markets since the beginning of the year have increased concerns about the outlook for the U.S. economy.

New York Fed President William Dudley flagged the downward trend in consumer inflation expectations as a potential concern in a Jan. 15 speech.

“As long as the economy continues to grow at an above-trend pace, I expect the increase in resource utilization will be sufficient to push both inflation and inflation expectations higher over time,” Dudley said. “That said, should the economy unexpectedly weaken, then this fall in inflation expectations would become more concerning.”