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Consumer Inflation Expectations Ticked Up, a Fed Survey Shows

Expectations for long-term inflation rose slightly in July, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York said on Monday, and consumers continued to foresee rapid price gains in the near term as the economy reopens from pandemic-related lockdowns.

The move in the Survey of Consumer Expectations’ longer-term price gauge was small, but it could prove meaningful at a time when central bank officials are closely watching such measures.

Economic policymakers want to make sure that long-term inflation expectations remain low and stable. If consumers come to expect that goods and services will cost more over time, they might become more willing to accept price jumps, which could itself lock in quicker inflation.

Long-term inflation expectations have been relatively stable this year even as price gains have taken off. That has been good new for Fed officials, because it supports the idea that today’s strong readings should fade with time, as the economy moves through an unusual reopening period.

The move in the New York Fed gauge is probably not enough to shift that narrative, but it will bear watching as the central bank keeps an eye on a range of price measures. The survey’s estimate of price gains over three years moved up to 3.7 percent from 3.6 percent, the highest reading since August 2013. Consumer expectations for prices over the next year, which have moved up sharply this year, held steady at an elevated level.

Central bankers will get a chance to see how consumer prices are shaping up when the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Wednesday releases July inflation data known as the Consumer Price Index. The Fed officially targets a different price gauge, but the C.P.I. comes out earlier and its data feeds into the Fed’s preferred measure, making it a key data point.

Economists in a Bloomberg survey expect the C.P.I. to pick up at a 0.5 percent pace compared with the prior month, slightly slower than the 0.9 percent pace in June but still a rapid increase. (By way of context, the average monthly increase over the past 20 years has been 0.2 percent.) Prices are expected to have climbed by 5.3 percent over the prior year, down slightly from 5.4 percent in the year through June.

Much of the recent increase in inflation is tied to reopening-related quirks — like a snap back in airline ticket prices, or a shortage of computer chips that has pushed up used-car prices — and policymakers expect those situations to resolve themselves with time. But there are big questions about how quickly supply-chain issues will fade, and Fed policymakers are closely monitoring the faster price gains to make sure they do not turn into a lasting trend.

“The longer this goes on, the harder it’s going to be for regular families and small businesses and others to not adjust,” Raphael Bostic, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, said on a call with reporters Monday. He noted that watching business, family and household expectations was important “to make sure that the length of this more turbulent time is not shifting expectations.”

“I’m not seeing that right now,” he added.

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