Falling gas prices are raising hopes that inflation is slowing, New York Fed survey shows



People shop at a supermarket in Montebello, California, on August 23, 2022.

Frederic J. Brown | AFP | Getty Images

Lower gas prices are raising optimism that inflation is on the decline, according to a survey Monday from the New York Federal Reserve.

Respondents to the central bank’s August Survey of Consumer Expectations indicated they expect the annual inflation rate to be 5.7% a year from now. That’s a decline from 6.2% in July and the lowest level since October 2021.

Three-year inflation expectations dropped to 2.8% in August from 3.2% the previous month. That was tied for the lowest level for that measure since November 2020.

The lowered outlook came amid a tumble in gasoline prices from more than $5 a gallon earlier in the summer, a nominal record high. The current national average is about $3.71 a gallon, still well above the price from a year ago but about a 26-cent decline from the same point in August, according to AAA.

Along those lines, consumers now expect gas prices to be little changed a year from now, according to the Fed survey. Food prices are expected to continue to climb, but the 5.8% anticipated increase a year from now is 0.8 percentage point lower than it was in July.

Rents are projected to increase 9.6%, but that is a 0.3 percentage point drop from the July survey.

Those numbers come as the Fed is using a series of aggressive interest rate increases to battle inflation that is still running close to a more than 40-year high. The central bank is widely expected to approve a third consecutive 0.75 percentage point increase when it meets again next week.

Rising cost of living

While consumers expect inflation pressures to ease somewhat, they still think the cost of living will escalate.

Median expectations for household spending over the next year rose 1 percentage point to 7.8% in August, an increase in outlook driven largely by those holding a high school education or less and a group largely composed of lower earners.

Moreover, respondents said credit is harder to come by now. Those reporting that it’s more difficult now to get credit rose to a series high, with 57.8% reporting that it’s either harder or much harder, the New York Fed reported.

Also, those expecting to miss a minimum debt payment over the next three months rose 12.2%, a 1.4 percentage point gain that was the highest reading since May 2020.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics on Tuesday will release the August consumer price index reading. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones expect CPI to have risen 8% from a year ago, though they see a decline of 0.1% from July. Excluding food and energy, core CPI is projected to rise 6% year over year and 0.3% month over month.

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