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Economic Report: Wholesale prices surge 1.4% and point to high U.S. inflation through the spring

The numbers: The cost of wholesale goods and services jumped 1.4% in March largely because of higher gas and food prices, signaling that U.S. inflation is likely to stay near a 40-year high through the spring.

Economists polled by The Wall Street Journal had forecast a 1.1% gain.

The increase in wholesale prices over the past year jumped to 11.2%, the government said Tuesday, from 10% in the prior month. That’s the highest level since the early 1980s.

The increase in so-called core wholesale prices, meanwhile, rose a sharp 0.9%. Wall Street had expected a 0.5% advance.

The Federal Reserve views the core rate as a clearer window into inflation trends because it strips out volatile food and energy prices.

In February, the core rate rose by the smallest amount in 15 months. Yet the sharper increase in March — suggesting inflationary pressures are still high — is sure to disappoint investors. They were encouraged on Tuesday by a mild increase in core prices as measured by the better-known consumer price index.

Stocks fell in premarket Wednesday trades after the report. Bond yield also slipped.

Trends in wholesale prices often offer clues on the path of inflation more broadly — what consumers end up paying for goods and services. The PPI reflects what companies pay for supplies such as grains, fuel, metals, lumber, packaging and so forth.

Big picture: Inflation may be at or near a peak, economists say, but prices are likely to keep rising at an uncomfortable pace at least into early next year.

The Fed plans to move more rapidly to raise low U.S. interest rates to try to squelch inflation. Yet higher rates take a while to have an effect, especially when they have been so low for so long.

What’s complicating matters is the war in Ukraine and massive Covid lockdowns in China.

The Ukraine conflict has contributed to higher prices for oil and food while the disruptions in China could worsen already strained global supply chains. U.S. businesses get a lot of materials and finished products such as cell phones from China.

Market reaction: The Dow Jones Industrial Average
DJIA,
-0.26%

and S&P 500
SPX,
-0.34%

were set to open lower in Wednesday trades. Stock prices declined on Tuesday.

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