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Inflation data 'already out of date:' White House downplays CPI expectations

With gas prices tumbling and tentative hopes that U.S. inflation might have peaked, you’d think the White House would eagerly await the upcoming release of new data on consumer prices for June.

Not so much.

President Joe Biden’s aides have aggressively downplayed expectations for Wednesday’s Consumer Price Index release because, they say, of technical factors in how CPI measures things like gas prices.

“June CPI data is already out of date,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declared during Monday’s press briefing.

National gas prices currently average $4.65 a gallon, down from over $5 a gallon a month ago. The White House expects the highly watched headline number to be elevated because of “backwards-looking data” that won’t account for the price drops of recent weeks.

Biden officials would rather the public focus instead on indicators such as last week’s positive jobs report and upcoming data on personal consumption expenditures, the Federal Reserve’s favored measure of inflation set to be released at the end of July.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks to reporters during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., July 5, 2022. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks to reporters during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., July 5, 2022. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Economists agree that Wednesday’s CPI print is likely to remain red hot, with overall prices in June expected to come in 8.8% higher than last year — marking a rise from the 8.6% jump between May 2021 and May 2022.

Meanwhile the “core” CPI — which excludes food and energy — is expected to rise 5.7%, according to consensus estimates. That would represent a slowdown from the 6% jump seen in May.

Deutsche Bank Chief U.S. Economist Matthew Luzzetti projects similar headline numbers, telling Yahoo Finance Live this week: "For a market that has been dealing with recession fears, I think this week will bring renewed fears about elevated inflation that began on Wednesday.”

It ‘will not reflect the current reality’

Concerns about a recession or a new spike in inflation are exactly what Biden’s aides hope to avoid.

“The headline June CPI print will not reflect the current reality,” a senior administration official told reporters in a call on Tuesday.

And in a memo, Biden's two top economic advisers — National Economic Council Director Brian Deese and Council of Economic Advisers Chair Cecilia Rouse — further fleshed out the White House’s argument.

They note the coming numbers reflect the average price for a good over the course of the entire month — and therefore will not fully reflect the downward trend in gas prices that began on June 13.

“Moreover, if wholesale gasoline prices remain at current levels, gas prices can be expected to [further] decline in the weeks ahead,” the pair wrote.

Senior administration officials further argue that it’s not just gas but other indicators whose prices have declined since peaking in June. Examples of items that won't be "fully reflected in the June data" include global shipping costs, wheat prices, and wholesale used vehicles, they say.

Ben Werschkul is a writer and producer for Yahoo Finance in Washington, DC.

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