Oct. 25 (Bloomberg) — The biggest rout in commodities since the global recession may be a sign that the fastest U.S. inflation in three years is peaking.
The Standard & Poor’s GSCI Index of 24 commodities entered a bear market last month after sliding more than 20 percent from a two-year high in April, on concern that slower growth will cut demand. A slump in the gauge from a 2008 record preceded a drop in inflation, while a 2009 rebound caused the consumer price index to climb. Raw materials fell 12 percent in September as the CPI rose 3.9 percent from the same month a year earlier, the most since 2008.
“There is a sense that headline inflation is receding,” said Stephen Stanley, the chief economist at Pierpont Securities LLC, a government-bond broker in Stamford, Connecticut. “Things have been a little more tame the last few months than they were earlier in the year, when you had this relentless push higher, in energy prices especially.”
That’s good news for shoppers, manufacturers and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, whose efforts to revive the economy have been criticized for risking faster inflation. Lower commodity costs, accounting for 40 percent of the CPI, would give Bernanke even more flexibility to shore up growth. The benchmark measure for prices will slow to 2.1 percent in 2012 from 3.1 percent this year, according to the median estimate of 75 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News.
While the commodity gauge doubled from its 2009 low as shortages emerged in energy, metals and grain markets, the cost of regular gasoline fell to $3.451 a gallon on Oct. 23 from $3.985 in May, American Automobile Association data show. The fuel accounts for 4.9 percent of CPI. Three years ago, a plunge to $1.616 from $4.114 helped reverse the year-over-year inflation rate of 5.6 percent in July 2008 to a contraction of 2.1 percent in the same month a year later.
The pace of food-cost gains will slow to 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent next year, compared with 3 percent to 4 percent in 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates. The commodities account for almost 14 percent of CPI.
The United Nations World Food Price Index has fallen 5.3 percent from a record in February as wheat plunged 30 percent from this year’s peak and corn and soybeans retreated. In August, Orrville, Ohio-based J.M. Smucker Co. lowered the price of Folgers coffee, the top-selling U.S. brand, as arabica-bean futures dropped as much as 24 percent from a peak in May. Cotton is 51 percent cheaper than at end-March, easing pressure on clothing manufacturers. Apparel accounts for 3.6 percent of CPI.
Price growth will slow to 3.35 percent this quarter from 3.77 percent in the previous three months, according to the median of 68 economists’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg. CPI will cool to 2 percent by the third quarter of next year, the estimates show.
The government’s measure includes 60 percent services such as rent and medical care and 40 percent commodities, which the Bureau of Labor Statistics defines as food, beverages, apparel and other non-durable goods, as well as durable goods including cars and appliances. The cost of those items is determined by raw materials and other expenditures, including labor.
“We’ve already seen some declines in gasoline prices and at least for some foodstuffs,” said Randy Kroszner, a former Fed governor and an economics professor at the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago. “That suggests that the outlook for inflation is relatively subdued.”
Investors are expecting a slower pace than they did in April, when the S&P GSCI gauge was at a 32-month high. The difference in yields on 10-year Treasury Inflation Protected Securities and 10-year bonds is 2.0309 percentage points, the average rate investors anticipate in CPI over the life of the securities, down from an almost five-year high of 2.6556 points on April 11.