As the economy continues to recover from the pandemic, a combination of strong demand, severe supply disruptions, widespread labor shortages, and surging energy prices has contributed to a rapid increase in inflation. Indeed, the inflation rate, as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), has exceeded 8 percent over the past year, the fastest pace of price increase since the early 1980s. If businesses and consumers expect inflation to be high in the future because it is elevated today, they may change their behavior accordingly, which can make inflation even more persistent. In other words, expectations about the path of future inflation can affect how current inflation will actually evolve. In particular, among businesses, expectations about future inflation can shape how they set wages and prices. Our May regional business surveys asked firms what they expected inflation to be one year, three years, and five years from now. Responses indicate that while businesses, like consumers, expect high inflation to continue over the next year, such elevated levels of inflation are not expected to persist over longer time horizons.
The surge in inflation since early 2021 has sparked intense debate. Would it be short-lived or prove to be persistent? Would it be concentrated within a few sectors or become broader? The answers to these questions are not so clear-cut. In our view, one should ask how much of the inflation is persistent and how much of it is broad-based. In this post, we address this question through a quantitative lens. We find that the large ups and downs in inflation over the course of 2020 were largely the result of transitory shocks, often sector-specific. In contrast, sometime in the fall of 2021, inflation dynamics became dominated by the trend component, which is persistent and largely common across sectors.