Economists see PPI up 0.5 percent in September
The higher cost of tobacco, autos and intermediate and crude goods helped drive U.S. producer prices higher in September, economists said.
Economists polled by Reuters forecast, on average, a 0.5 percent rise in the Labor Department's Producer Price Index (PPI), following an identical rise in August. The index measures prices paid to U.S. factories, farms and refineries.
Core producer prices, which exclude food and energy, rose 0.4 percent in September, economists predicted, following a 0.1 percent decline in August.
The Labor Department is scheduled to release producer price data at 0830 EDT/1230 GMT on Friday.
Michael Moran, chief economist at Daiwa Securities America Inc., said the September data will fully reflect late August tobacco price increases as well as the lack of heavy auto discounting by dealers after a summer of strong sales. Overall producer prices likely rose 0.5 percent while core prices advanced 0.3 percent last month, Moran said.
U.S. stock and bond markets, he added, ``will be braced for pressure from tobacco and noise from the auto industry. If the headline figure starts to get about five-tenths, and it's something more than tobacco and car prices, then you'll see some negative reaction.''
Prices of intermediate and crude goods, also known as ``pipeline'' products, will probably also contribute to high PPI numbers, economists said.
``I would expect, given the increases we have seen in commodities prices, a slight upward bias to the intermediate and crude goods category, and that will continue a trend,'' said Brian Wesbury, chief economist at Griffin, Kubic, Stephens & Thompson, Inc. in Chicago.
Wesbury expects rises of 0.4 and 0.3 percent in the headline and core PPI numbers, respectively. He said unexpected inflationary signs could spook U.S. bond markets, which he said more readily swoon on perceived negative news than bounce on positive news. He expects tobacco and oil to lead overall prices higher.
``Once we strip out oil and tobacco, we'll find that inflation is actually very tame,'' Wesbury said. ``And yet, I don't see this helping the market a great deal. The market is almost walking on eggshells, looking for any signs of inflation.''
A more bearish forecast comes from Russ Sheldon, chief economist at MCM Moneywatch. He expects the core rate to rise 0.7 percent in September, principally on strength in pipeline prices.
``Pipeline prices have been moving steadily upward for several months,'' he said. ``We may see some more worrisome, continued increases in pipeline prices, and that may start to add to core inflation in September, and certainly in October and beyond.''
A large PPI rise could give the Federal Reserve's policy making Federal Open Market Committee reason to raise interest rates when it next meets on November 16, economists said.
The Fed voted on October 5 to leave its target federal funds rate, which banks charge each other for overnight loans, unchanged at 5.25 percent. But it adopted a tightening bias, suggesting possible rate increases.
Moran said a tightening may be in the offing, but PPI data alone will not cause it.
``The Fed will have to see either strong demand in the economy or pressure on wages or prices other than tobacco,'' he said. ``It will have to have some justification in the economic numbers.''