Inflation Slows as Commodity Price Drop Hurts TIPs

The Labor Department’s consumer price index (CPI) was up 1.5% in March, the fourth time in the last five months that it has been below the Fed’s 2% inflation goal.   The slowdown in the CPI is in line with a slowdown in the Fed’s preferred inflation gauge, the personal consumption expenditures price index, which in February was up only 1.3% from a year earlier.  The lack of inflation pressures could lead to a lengthier period of Fed stimulus than is currently expected.  “There is substantial slack in the labor market and in the markets for goods and services,” New York Fed President William Dudley said Tuesday. “The risk that inflation could significantly exceed our 2% objective is quite low over the next few years, even if the economy were to strengthen considerably.”   Commodity prices, as measured by the CRB index,  have fallen 11% since mid-February as the price of energy and metals have fallen on weaker demand.  Inflation-protected treasurys, or TIPS, have underperformed traditional treasury bonds since February, as investors rethink the risk of inflation.  Inflation may rise in the future due to monetary stimulus from the Fed and other central banks, but for investors today, it looks like that risk is further and further in the future.