Just when you thought that the inflation problem couldn’t get any worse, the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases a number that was bigger than the experts had anticipated, and which puts the Federal Reserve between a rock and a hard place.

While economists had braced for an annualized U.S. CPI (consumer price index) print of 7.8% for February, the actual number turned out to be 7.9%. Bear in mind, this doesn’t include any price increases that took place in March.

So far in the month of March, the Russia-Ukraine crisis has caused the prices of essential commodities like wheat and corn to increase substantially. And of course, we’ve all see what’s happened to gasoline prices during the past couple of weeks.

Consequently, it reasonable to conclude that the next inflation print will be even worse than the one for February. Knowing this, investors pushed the major stock-market indexes lower after the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the monthly inflation data.

Now, some folks might object that the 7.9% isn’t much worse than the 7.8% which the experts had predicted. That’s a fair point, but it doesn’t negate the Fed’s quandary as the next FOMC meeting approaches quickly.

At the meeting, which will take place this month, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell is expected to increase the Fed funds rate by 25 basis points, or 0.25%. It wasn’t very long ago that economists were bracing for a 50-basis-point or 0.50% rate hike in March.

Courtesy: Yahoo Finance

The Fed’s dilemma is that its primary tool for controlling rising inflation is to raise the Fed funds rate. However, the stock market is already on thin ice due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict, and could crash if the Fed hikes too aggressively.

The pressure to be more aggressive is enormous, though. In the words of Seema Shah, chief strategist at Principal Global Investors, “The Fed cannot afford to wait and see how financial conditions respond to the geopolitical conflict… They need to move now, now, now.”

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    If inflation isn’t contained soon, there will undoubtedly be ripple effects throughout the U.S. economy. Consumers will pull back on their discretionary spending, which will negatively impact businesses and possibly precipitate a recession.

    Moreover, the impact won’t be limited to spending on discretionary goods. With the highest inflation print since January 1982 comes an across-the-board increase in consumer prices, including on products that are unquestionably considered essential.

    The government won’t want to talk much about it, but a breakdown of February’s inflation data presents an ugly picture of what’s actually happening in the economy today. For example, while people are eating at home instead of at restaurants in order to save money, the “food at home” category of goods increased 8.6% year-over-year last month.

    Courtesy: Bureau of Labor Statistics

    Within that category is the “meats, poultry, fish, and eggs” sub-category, which rose 13%. This might drive people toward meatless food choices just to lower their grocery bills.

    Food is essential for everyone, and gasoline is usually necessary for people who work away from home. Thus, February’s 38% annualized increase in gasoline prices makes it more difficult, and less profitable, to go to work.

    Speaking of going to work, struggling America’s might look for a used vehicle because new ones are expensive – but because of inflation, used cars are ultra-expensive too. Believe it or not, the price of a used car or truck is, on average, 41.2% higher than it was a year ago.

    That’s compared to the 12.4% increase in the price of new vehicles. So, everyone’s worse off, but the lower-to-middle classes really get the short end of the stick.

    As a result, the Fed can’t just sit on its hands, but it doesn’t want to act. It’s a no-win situation for everyone involved – except perhaps for people who have been accumulating anti-inflation assets, which Crush the Street has been educating people about for a long time.

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