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Consumer Price Inflation, by Type of Good or Service (2000-2022)

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Chart shows CPI price inflation since 2000

Consumer Price Inflation, by Type of Good or Service (2000-2022)

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) provides a steady indication of how inflation is affecting the economy. This big picture number is useful for policymakers and professionals in the financial sector, but most people experience inflation at the cash register or checkout screen.

Since the start of the 21st century, U.S. consumers have seen a divergence of price movements across various categories. Nowhere is this better illustrated than on this chart concept thought up by AEI’s Mark J. Perry. It’s sometimes referred to as the “chart of the century” because it provides such a clear and impactful jump-off point to discuss a number of economic forces.

The punchline is that many consumer goods—particularly those that were easily outsourced—saw price drops, while key “non-tradable” categories saw massive increases. We’ll look at both situations in more detail below.

Race to the Top: Inflation in Healthcare and Education

Since the beginning of this century, two types of essential categories have been marching steadily upward in price: healthcare and education.

America has a well documented “medical inflation” issue. There are a number of reasons why costs in the healthcare sector keep rising, including rising labor costs, an aging population, better technology, and medical tourism. The pricing of pharmaceutical products and hospital services are also a major contributor to increases. As Barry Ritholtz has diplomatically stated, “market forces don’t work very well in this industry”.

Rising medical costs have serious consequences for the U.S. population. Recent data indicates that half of Americans now carry medical debt, with the majority owing $1,000 or more.

Also near the top of the chart are education-related categories. In the ’60s and ’70s, tuition roughly tracked with inflation, but that began to change in the mid-1980s. Since then, tuition costs have marched ever upward. Since 2000, tuition prices have increased by 178% and college textbooks have jumped 162%.

As usual, low income students are disproportionally impacted by rising tuition. Pell Grants now cover a much smaller portion of tuition than they used to, and the majority of states have cut funding to higher education in recent years.

Globalization: A Tale of Televisions and Toys

Even though essentials like education and heathcare have rocketed up, it’s not all bad news. Consumers have seen the price of some goods and services drop dramatically.

Flat screen televisions used to be a big ticket item. At the turn of the century, a flat screen TV would cost around 17% of the median income of the time ($42,148). In the early aughts though, prices began to fall quickly. Today, a new TV will cost less than 1% of the U.S. median income ($54,132).

Similarly, cellular services and software have gotten cheaper over the past two decades as well. Toys are another prime example. Not only are most toys manufactured overseas, the value proposition has changed as children have new digital options to entertain themselves with.

Over a long-term perspective, items like clothing and household furnishings have remained relatively flat in price, even after the most recent bout of inflation.

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What History Reveals About Interest Rate Cuts

How have previous cycles of interest rate cuts in the U.S. impacted the economy and financial markets?

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Line chart showing the depth and duration of previous cycles of interest rate cuts.

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The following content is sponsored by New York Life Investments

What History Reveals About Interest Rate Cuts

The Federal Reserve has overseen seven cycles of interest rate cuts, averaging 26 months and 6.35 percentage points (ppts) each.

We’ve partnered with New York Life Investments to examine the impact of interest rate cut cycles on the economy and on the performance of financial assets in the U.S. to help keep investors informed. 

A Brief History of Interest Rate Cuts

Interest rates are a powerful tool that the central bank can use to spur economic activity. 

Typically, when the economy experiences a slowdown or a recession, the Federal Reserve will respond by cutting interest rates. As a result, each of the previous seven rate cut cycles—shown in the table below—occurred during or around U.S. recessions, according to data from the Federal Reserve. 

Interest Rate Cut CycleMagnitude (ppts)
July 2019–April 2020-2.4
July 2007–December 2008-5.1
November 2000–July 2003-5.5
May 1989–December 1992-6.9
August 1984–October 1986-5.8
July 1981–February 1983-10.5
July 1974–January 1977-8.3
Average-6.4

Source: Federal Reserve 07/03/2024

Understanding past economic and financial impacts of interest rate cuts can help investors prepare for future monetary policy changes.

The Economic Response: Inflation

During past cycles, data from the Federal Reserve, shows that, on average, the inflation rate continued to decline throughout (-3.4 percentage points), largely due to the lagged effects of a slower economy that normally precedes interest rate declines. 

CycleStart to end change (ppts)End to one year later (ppts)
July 2019–April 2020-1.5+3.8
July 2007–December 2008-2.3+2.6
November 2000–July 2003-1.3+0.9
May 1989–December 1992-2.5-0.2
August 1984–October 1986-2.8+3.1
July 1981–February 1983-7.3+1.1
July 1974–January 1977-6.3+1.6
Average-3.4+1.9

Source: Federal Reserve 07/03/2024. Based on the effective federal funds rate. Calculations are based on the previous four rate cut cycles (2019-2020, 2007-2008, 2000-2003, 1989-1992, 1984-1986, 1981-1983, 1974-1977).

However, inflation played catch-up and rose by +1.9 percentage points one year after the final rate cut. With lower interest rates, consumers were incentivized to spend more and save less, which led to an uptick in the price of goods and services in six of the past seven cycles. 

The Economic Response: Real Consumer Spending Growth

Real consumer spending growth, as measured by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, typically reacted to rate cuts more quickly. 

On average, consumption growth rose slightly during the rate cut periods (+0.3 percentage points) and that increase accelerated one year later (+1.7 percentage points). 

CycleStart to end (ppts)End to one year later (ppts)
July 2019–April 2020-9.6+15.3
July 2007–December 2008-4.6+3.1
November 2000–July 2003+0.8-2.5
May 1989–December 1992+3.0-1.3
August 1984–October 1986+1.6-2.7
July 1981–February 1983+7.2-0.7
July 1974–January 1977+3.9+0.9
Average+0.3+1.7

Source: BEA 07/03/2024. Quarterly data. Consumer spending growth is based on the percent change from the preceding quarter in real personal consumption expenditures, seasonally adjusted at annual rates. Percent changes at annual rates were then used to calculate the change in growth over rate cut cycles. Data from the last full quarter before the date in question was used for calculations. Calculations are based on the previous four rate cut cycles (2019-2020, 2007-2008, 2000-2003, 1989-1992, 1984-1986, 1981-1983, 1974-1977).

The COVID-19 pandemic and the Global Financial Crisis were outliers. Spending continued to fall during the rate cut cycles but picked up one year later.

The Investment Response: Stocks, Bonds, and Real Estate

Historically, the trend in financial asset performance differed between stocks, bonds, and real estate both during and after interest rate declines.

Stocks and real estate posted negative returns during the cutting phases, with stocks taking the bigger hit. Conversely, bonds, a traditional safe haven, gained ground. 

AssetDuring (%)1 Quarter After (%)2 Quarters After (%)4 Quarters After (%)
Stocks-6.0+18.2+19.4+23.9
Bonds+6.3+15.3+15.1+10.9
Real Estate-4.8+25.5+15.6+25.5

Source: Yahoo Finance, Federal Reserve, NAREIT 09/04/2024. The S&P 500 total return index was used to track performance of stocks. The ICE Corporate Bonds total return index was used to track the performance of bonds. The NAREIT All Equity REITs total return index was used to track the performance of real estate. Calculations are based on the previous four rate cut cycles (2019-2020, 2007-2008, 2000-2003, 1989-1992). It is not possible to invest directly in an index. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Index definitions can be found at the end of this piece.

However, in the quarters preceding the last rate cut, all three assets increased in value. One year later, real estate had the highest average performance, followed closely by stocks, with bonds coming in third.

What’s Next for Interest Rates

In March 2024, the Federal Reserve released its Summary of Economic Projections outlining its expectation that U.S. interest rates will fall steadily in 2024 and beyond.

YearRange (%)Median (%)
Current5.25-5.505.375
20244.50-4.754.625
20253.75-4.03.875
20263.00-3.253.125
Longer run2.50-2.752.625

Source: Federal Reserve 20/03/2024

Though the timing of interest rate cuts is uncertain, being armed with the knowledge of their impact on the economy and financial markets can provide valuable insight to investors. 

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