Saturday, May 14, 2011

"Tracking Inflation: How Fast Are Prices Rising?

I like Paul Solman.
From PBS' NewsHour:
JIM LEHRER: Now, inflation.
The government's latest figures show prices made the biggest jump in any 12-month period since October 2008. But when gas and food are added, inflation feels even higher to most Americans. And that presents a dilemma for the Federal Reserve.

NewsHour economics correspondent Paul Solman reports as part of his ongoing coverage on making sense of financial news.

ROBERTO RIGOBON, MIT Sloan School of Management: We collect food, beverages. We collect health products, home products.

PAUL SOLMAN: With an MIT colleague, economist Roberto Rigobon tracks millions of prices online, worldwide...

ROBERTO RIGOBON: Real estate, furniture, clothing.

PAUL SOLMAN: ... and thus tracks inflation, how fast prices are rising, including here in the U.S.

ROBERTO RIGOBON: If you take the last three, four months, we're detecting an inflation rate of about 5 percent, close to 5 percent.

PAUL SOLMAN: Faithful NewsHour viewers may recall how, by contrast, the government monitors inflation, every month, 400 part-timers, like California's Frank Dubich, gathering data one price at a time.
Hockey gloves.

FRANK DUBICH, CPI data collector: And how much are those today?

MAN: These are $69.99.

PAUL SOLMAN: Hotel rooms.

WOMAN: Would be $149.

FRANK DUBICH: One hundred and forty-nine even?


PAUL SOLMAN: What are you going to be pricing here?

FRANK DUBICH: Navel oranges, tangelos.

PAUL SOLMAN: This is how the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the BLS, keeps tabs on 80,000 prices. It, too, is reporting an annual inflation rate of about 5 percent; a trend Rigobon's online tracking method had picked up months earlier.

ROBERTO RIGOBON: Since December, for example, we started detecting more inflation. And then, you know, the BLS sees the inflation rate from very little, starts to go up and up, and now is much bigger. You see?
...MORE, including the video and an appearance by Robert Shiller.