The Federal Reserve's mandate to maintain price stability requires that whenever significant inflation threatens it is supposed to hit the economy on the head with a brick: raise interest rates, and so discourage investment spending, lower capacity utilization, raise unemployment, and so create excess supply. The Federal Reserve would rather not do this unless it has no other option. If the rise in inflation is thought to be (a) transitory and thus (b) self-limiting, the Fed would prefer to let sleeping dogs lie rather than hit the economy on the head with a brick.
The Fed cannot, however, just say "we regard this rise in inflation as (a) transitory and thus (b) self-limiting, and so are going to let sleeping dogs lie." A Fed that does that quickly loses its credibility as an inflation-fighter, and a modern central bank with no inflation-fighting credibility is in a world of hurt.
However, when increases in inflation are confined to (i) energy and (ii) food prices, odds are that the increase is transitory and will be self-limiting. Hence the concept of "core inflation." If the Federal Reserve concludes that the current rise in inflation is transitory and self-limiting, it can point to the core inflation number as a principled excuse for not hitting the economy on the head with a brick.
The Fed uses the concept of core inflation not because it doesn't recognize that food and energy prices are not rising, but because it doesn't want to hit the economy on the head with a brick when it isn't necessary just because it has to demonstrate that it is one tough mujer.
Here is Barry:
The Big Picture | There's No Inflation (If You Ignore Facts): One of our favorite topics -- inflation ex-inflation -- has been slowly creeping into the mainstream. We have been hammering away on this for years; the surprise half point cut by the Fed is the most likely reason as to why the MSM seems to have discovered this meme. Here's the latest from Dan Gross' Contrary Indicator column in Newsweek:
"Readings on core inflation have improved modestly this year," the Federal Open Market Committee said in justifying its 50-basis-point interest-rate cut last month, while conceding that "some inflation risks remain."
Catch that bit about "core inflation"? That's Fedspeak for: inflation is under control, unless you look at the costs of things that are going up. The core rate excludes the prices of food and energy, which can be volatile from month to month. Factor them in, and inflation is about as moderate as Newt Gingrich. In the first eight months of 2007, the consumer price index—the main gauge of inflation—rose at a 3.7 percent annual rate. That's more than 50 percent higher than the mild 2.3 percent core rate. The prices of energy and food are soaring, at 12.7 percent and 5.6 percent annual rates, respectively, and have been doing so for years. As a result, the CPI—including food and energy—has risen 12.6 percent since July 2003, for a compound rate of about 3 percent.
Signs of inflation are evident throughout the economy. When investors fear a rising inflationary tide, they latch onto the driftwood of gold. The day Bernanke cut rates, the price of the precious metal soared to heights not seen since 1980, when inflation ran at nearly 12 percent! I read about this in The Wall Street Journal (whose newsstand price rose 50 percent in July), which I picked up in the lobby of a New York hotel (where the average nightly rate soared 12.5 percent in the first seven months of 2007 from 2006, according to PKF Consulting) while sipping on a Starbucks Frappuccino (whose price has risen twice since last October)."
The whole article is worth your time to read . . .