April Import and Export Prices

KEY DATA: Imports: +0.5%; Fuel: +1.6%; Nonfuel: +0.3%; Exports: +0.2%; Farm: +0.3%

IN A NUTSHELL: “The steady acceleration in nonfuel imported goods costs is another reason for the Fed to raise rates.”

WHAT IT MEANS: We may be only a week past the last FOMC meeting, but it is already history. With job gains rebounding to decent levels, only some sudden deceleration in inflation might slow the Fed from its appointed round of rate hikes. (The members don’t care much about rain, heat or gloom of night.) Well, it doesn’t look like inflation is going to decelerate anytime soon. Import prices rose sharply in April, led by a jump in fuel costs. But it wasn’t just energy, which has backed off lately. Nonfuel prices rose solidly as well. Food, building supplies, metals, vehicles and even to a small extent consumer goods costs were up. The acceleration in the rise in imported goods prices, excluding energy, has been going on for sixteen months now. While the increase over the year of 1.4% for non-petroleum goods imports is not great, it is an awful lot more than the 3.7% decline that was posted as recently as December 2015.

On the export side, the farm sector is doing fine again. Prices rose for the fourth consecutive month and sixth out of the last seven. Since April 2016, prices are up 4.6%. In comparison, one year ago, farmers were looking at a 9% drop, over-the-year, in their export prices.

MARKETS AND FED POLICY IMPLICATIONS: Given yesterday’s events, it is likely this report and most others that come out this week, will be trees falling in the forest. Yes, we get additional inflation numbers and April’s retail sales report, but for investors, the political implications of FBI Director Comey’s firing are critical. Let’s face it, what matters to investors is whether the president’s agenda, specifically, tax cuts, regulatory reform and spending increases, is hurt by the action. The passage of the AHCA was viewed in that light, not whether it made health care better, worse or did nothing to it. If the firing backfires and harms the ability to pass legislation, then markets will react accordingly. If it goes away, then investors can continue dreaming of changes in those issues they hold dear. But we may not know for a while. There are lots of politicians hiding under rocks today but they may have to actually say something eventually. I just don’t know what stand they will take. Meanwhile, the Fed will be watching the week’s data carefully and if the consumer and producer price indices also show further acceleration in inflation, it would be prudent to expect that the FOMC will do something at its June 13-14 meeting.