The Prices, They Are A-Risin’

By Lee Koromvokis

The price of food was up .4 percent last month, but energy was down a full 1 percent, helping to quell overall inflation for U.S. households in May. But core inflation -– what’s happening to prices after volatile food and energy prices are stripped out — was up .3 percent, the biggest monthly jump since July 2008.

In fact, it was that particular monthly Labor Department report, published in mid-August 2008, that sparked one of the few stories we’ve ever had to spike here at the NewsHour. After a couple of weeks of research – and allowing for time to take advantage of advance-purchase airfare discounts! – we made our way to Oakland, Calif., the next month to tape with John Williams, a noted skeptic of U.S. government statistics, who has long claimed the true rate of inflation is much higher than the “official” Consumer Price Index.  We spent a couple of days with Williams, who took us to several businesses in his neighborhood – a bakery, a newsstand, a bookstore, a gold coin exchange – to help make him make his case.

We flew home, intending to start putting our story together the following week. That was the week of Sept. 15, 2008, also known as the week that Lehman Brothers blew up and the economy came crashing down. Our inflation story was suddenly dead, replaced by DE-flation. And though our trip to Oakland wasn’t a total loss (we were able to use bits and pieces of what we’d shot in various stories about the financial crisis), we were never able to use the footage as we’d intended.

Until now, that is.  Nearly three years later, inflation is once again on the rise. And when we checked in with our Oakland business people, they confirmed that they are finally making those price hikes they were contemplating back in September 2008.

Follow Paul on Twitter. Video edited by Elizabeth Shell.

Did Home Prices Drop in Your Hometown?

Pin color represents price changes over time: January, 2008 to current. 

By Paul Solman

Yikes. Or, perhaps, yipes. The Case-Shiller index for the first quarter of 2011 is out this morning and here’s how Bloomberg puts it: “Home Prices in 20 U.S. Cities Fall to 8-Year Low.”

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David M. Blitzer, Chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Indices, which puts out Case-Shiller, went into greater detail:

“This month’s report is marked by the confirmation of a double-dip in home prices across much of the nation.”

The dreaded “double-dip.” One can only hope it’s restricted to the housing market. Lower housing prices mean even less wealth for most Americans, which in turn means less money to spend, which in turn… well, you get the picture.

All of the indices – national, 20-City Composite and 12 metropolitan areas – “hit new lows,” writes Blitzer.

"The National Index fell 4.2% over the first quarter alone, and is down 5.1% compared to its year-ago level. Home prices continue on their downward spiral with no relief in sight.”

“Since December 2010, we have found an increasing number of markets posting new lows. In March 2011, 12 cities - Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Las Vegas, Miami, Minneapolis, New York, Phoenix, Portland (OR) and Tampa - fell to their lowest levels as measured by the current housing cycle. Washington D.C. was the only MSA displaying positive trends with an annual growth rate of +4.3% and a 1.1% increase from its February level.

“The rebound in prices seen in 2009 and 2010 was largely due to the first-time home buyers tax credit. Excluding the results of that policy, there has been no recovery or even stabilization in home prices during or after the recent recession. Further, while last year saw signs of an economic recovery, the most recent data do not point to renewed gains.”

To accompany the Case-Shiller index, we introduce a new map today here on Making Sen$e. You can see how home prices have changed in various cities in recent years, right up to the latest data. Sobering stuff.

Click on any of the markers to see data we’ve compiled from the index for 20 metropolitan areas, 2008 to now. You can see the three-month average for each month by scrolling down, as well as the change over time. The number reflects how house prices have changed: as a reference, a value of 100 represents January, 2000 price levels.

As for today’s numbers, which coincided with the latest consumer confidence index hitting a six-month low, any glimmers of hope? Well, the Dow is up at 4 p.m., more than 100 points, as I write this. That adds some wealth to Americans invested in stocks. It also suggests that maybe the U.S. stock market, and especially the Dow, dominated as it is by big companies that sell so much abroad, reflects the global economy more than it does what’s happening here at home.