Retail sales, Consumer Price Index: What to know this week

·7 min read

Traders this week will be focused on new data on inflation and spending. Each are likely to have moderated last month after initial reopening surges in demand and price increases earlier this year. 

On the inflation front, the Labor Department's August Consumer Price Index (CPI) is set for release on Tuesday. The print is expected to decelerate on both a monthly and annual basis, suggesting the peak growth rates in prices for consumer goods and service may already have passed during this economic recovery. 

Consensus economists expect the broadest measure of CPI will grow 0.4% in August compared to July, and by 5.3% compared to August 2020. In July, the headline CPI grew 0.5% month-on-month and by 5.4% year-on-year, with the latter representing the fastest annual growth rate since 2008. 

Excluding more volatile food and energy prices, the CPI likely grew 0.3% month-on-month in August to match July's pace. However, on a year-over-year basis, the CPI excluding food and energy prices likely ticked down to a 4.2% rate, or a hair below July's 4.3% rate. That had, in turn, moderated from a 4.5% annual rate in June, which had marked the fastest rise since 1991. 

The multi-year highs in consumer price increases so far this year have coincided with the broadening economic recovery, as more Americans became vaccinated and were more inclined to spend. This especially drove up prices in goods and services closely tied to renewed consumer mobility. 

Used car and truck prices, for instances, rose at least 7.3% in each of April, May and June before decelerating sharply to an only 0.2% rise in July — suggesting an initial wave of demand was finally being unwound as consumers reacclimatized to going back out and companies' supply chains began to catch up with demand. Similar trends have been seen in prices for airline tickets, motor vehicle insurance and apparel prices, which pulled back in July after spiking earlier in late spring and early summer. 

Other categories of consumer prices have seen more sustained increases, especially in food and energy prices. Other services-related areas of consumption have also seen sustained rises, with consumers returning to in-person activities like dining out at bars and restaurants and leisure traveling. The CPI's "services less energy services" category has on a monthly basis in every month so far in 2021 except January, mostly recently at a 0.3% clip. 

Muhlenberg, PA - March 18: Redner's Quick Shoppe employee Julie Zezenski and  Manager Pete Ostrowski work behind the counter at the Redner's Quick Shoppe on Tuckerton Road in Muhlenberg township Thursday afternoon March 18, 2021. (Photo by Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images)
Muhlenberg, PA - March 18: Redner's Quick Shoppe employee Julie Zezenski and Manager Pete Ostrowski work behind the counter at the Redner's Quick Shoppe on Tuckerton Road in Muhlenberg township Thursday afternoon March 18, 2021. (Photo by Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images)

"Although the rise in global CPI inflation earlier this year was concentrated in energy and a narrow set of goods prices linked to supply constraints, the acceleration in food prices, alongside a recent pickup in services price inflation, sends a signal that pandemic-related pressures on prices are broadening," JPMorgan economists Nora Szentivanyi and Bruce Kasman wrote in a note last week. 

"While we believe much of this pressure will prove transitory, inflation should remain elevated through early next year, as rising food and services price inflation offsets a moderation in energy and core goods price gains," they added. 

The CPI also serves as another metric pointing to the relative stickiness or transience of inflationary pressures in the recovering economy. Its outsized increases earlier this year — along with increases in the Federal Reserve's preferred inflationary gauge, core personal consumption expenditures — have suggested to some economists that the central bank might be prudent to alter its monetary policies to stave off a sustained overheating of the economy. 

Federal Reserve policymakers, however, have largely stuck to the conviction that inflation will prove transitory in this economy. Central bank officials like Fed Chair Jerome Powell further suggested that a premature policy move could actually backfire by cutting short the recovery in the labor market. 

"The spike in inflation is so far largely the product of a relatively narrow group of goods and services that have been directly affected by the pandemic and the reopening of the economy," Powell said during his speech at the central bank's Jackson Hole symposium in late August.

"Some prices — for example, for hotel rooms and airplane tickets — declined sharply during the recession and have now moved back up close to pre-pandemic levels," he said. "The 12-month window we use in computing inflation now captures the rebound in prices but not the initial decline, temporarily elevating reported inflation. These effects, which are adding a few tenths to measured inflation, should wash out over time."

Retail sales

Another closely watched economic data report out this week will be Thursday's retail sales print from the U.S. Commerce Department. 

Consumer spending has retreated in recent months as a boost from stimulus checks and other government support faded compared to earlier this year. In July, retail sales fell by a worse-than-expected 1.1%, which was more than three times greater than the drop expected. 

The August retail sales report will capture more of the impact on spending from the latest jump in coronavirus cases, with infections related to the Delta variant's spread having picked up mid-summer. Consensus economists expect to see sales fall for a back-to-back month, dropping by 0.8% for the month. 

Some service-related spending already slowed in July, suggesting consumers were already going out somewhat less frequently as infections mounted. Food services and drinking places sales increase by 1.7% in July, following a 2.4% monthly gain in June. 

The August retail sales report, however, will not capture any impact on spending related to the national expiration of enhanced unemployment benefits. Throughout the summer, about half of U.S. states had ended pandemic-era federal jobless benefits to try and incentivize unemployed individuals to return to work. The other half of states ended these benefits by Sept. 6. 

Future retail sales reports for September and onward may reflect slowing sales as a result of the expiration of this aid, some economists suggested. 

"Spending by the unemployed, especially low-income households, has been supported by enhanced unemployment benefits," Rubeela Farooqi, chief economist at High Frequency Economics, wrote in a note. "Absent this support, spending outcomes will surely be different, especially if households are less secure about job prospects going forward."

Economic calendar

  • Monday: Monthly budget statement, August (-$302.1 billion during prior month)

  • Tuesday: NFIB Small Business Optimism, August (99.7 during prior month); Real Average Weekly Earnings, year-over-year, August (-0.9% during prior month); Consumer Price Index, month-over-month, August (0.4% expected, 0.5% in July); Consumer Price Index excluding food and energy, month-over-month, August (0.3% expected, 0.3% in July); Consumer Price Index, year-over-year, August (5.3% expected, 5.4% in July); Consumer Price Index excluding food and energy, year-over-year (August (4.2% expected, 4.3% in August)

  • Wednesday: MBA Mortgage Applications, week ended September 10 (-1.9% during prior week); Empire Manufacturing, September (20.0 expected, 18.3 during prior month); Import Price Index, month-over-month, August (0.3% expected, 0.3% in July); Industrial Production, month-over-month, August (0.6% expected, 0.9% in July); Capacity Utilization, August (76.4% in August, 76.1% in July); Manufacturing Production, August (0.4% expected, 1.4% in July)

  • Thursday: Retail Sales Advance, month-over-month, August (-0.8% expected, -1.1% in July); Retail Sales excluding autos and gas, August (-0.5% expected, -0.7% in July); Initial jobless claims, week ended September 11; Continuing Claims, week ended September 4; Philadelphia Fed Business Outlook Index, September (20.0 expected, 19.4 in August); Business inventories, July (0.5% expected, 0.8% in June); Total Net TIC Flows, July ($31.5 billion in June); Total Long-term TIC Flows, July ($110.9 billion in June)

  • Friday: University of Michigan Sentiment, September preliminary (72.7 expected, 70.3 in August)

Earnings calendar 

  • Monday: Oracle (ORCL) after market close

  • Tuesday: Lennar (LEN), FuelCell Energy (FCEL) before market open  

  • Wednesday: Weber (WEBR) before market open

  • Thursday: No notable reports scheduled for release

  • Friday: No notable reports scheduled for release

Emily McCormick is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @emily_mcck

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