The U.S. economy is currently witnessing a significant trend: goods deflation. This phenomenon, particularly noticeable in durable goods, stands in contrast to the inflationary pressures of recent years.
Goods deflation is characterized by a persistent decrease in the prices of goods over time. It has been most pronounced in durable goods such as appliances, furniture, and used cars, offering a stark counterpoint to the inflation experienced in other sectors.
Durable goods have experienced price declines for five consecutive months. In October, their prices were down by 2.6% from September 2022, as reported by the Commerce Department. This trend has contributed to a reduction in core inflation, dropping from 5.5% in September 2022 to 3.1% in November. Meanwhile, service-related prices, like home rentals and car insurance, continue to rise, albeit at a slower pace.
Several factors contribute to this deflationary trend:
- Improved Supply Chains: Streamlining of supply chains has led to better product availability.
- Shift in Consumer Demand: Post-pandemic, consumers are adjusting their spending habits.
- Global Oil Market Dynamics: Falling global oil prices are influenced by high U.S. production and China’s weakening economy.
Sector-specific deflation, unlike economy-wide deflation, indicates a shift in economic dynamics. For instance, prices of durable goods, which had declined annually before the pandemic, surged in 2021 and 2022, reaching a 47-year high in February 2022.
Although U.S. consumer prices are 3.1% higher than a year ago, according to the latest Consumer Price Index, many goods are significantly cheaper than they were a year ago, such as eggs, airfares, gasoline, appliances, and smartphones.
The deflationary trend in goods, especially in appliances, furniture, and used cars, is not necessarily a sign of economy-wide deflation. Economists note that this trend could aid in reducing overall inflation towards the Federal Reserve’s 2% target, possibly as early as the second half of 2024. This is because the deflation in goods prices could offset the continued price increases for services, leading to a more balanced inflation rate.
The current trend of goods deflation in the U.S. highlights the complexity of managing inflation across different sectors. It brings relief in some areas while underscoring challenges in others. Understanding these dynamics is crucial for policymakers, businesses, and consumers navigating these evolving economic conditions.
Written by: Kristopher Jones, CFA