US inflation – still a problem

Social Bonds : A significant financing opportunity amid the pandemic

Executive summary

High inflation was rampant in 2022, eroding real income, disrupting the financial markets and weighing on the economy. To tame it, the Federal Reserve (Fed) has been hiking interest rates since March 2022, by a cumulative 475bps until April 2023. It also started tapering around the same time. Although inflation was moderated, pushing it back to the 2% target still requires more work. Liquidity shrinking and high interest rates resulted in a banking crisis, prompting the Fed to slow interest rate hikes and even completely revise the direction of monetary policy. The 2023 outlook is gloomy, shadowed by the high interest environment, a still-resilient labour market, volatile energy prices and financial system instability.

What ailed the US economy in 2022?

High inflation best characterises the world economy in 2022. CPI in the US was 8.1%, the highest in 40 years. High inflation and consumption have been eroding savings accumulated amid the pandemic, resulting in slower growth in private expenditure and demand for higher wages. Disruption in commodity markets induced by the Russia-Ukraine war also pressured inflation from outside. Aiming to fight surging domestic CPI, the Fed’s aggressive interest rate hikes suppressed consumption and investment. In 2022, US real GDP growth slowed to 2.1% y/y from 5.9% y/y in 2021.

Factors pushing up inflation

US inflation started to soar in April 2021 and peaked in June 2022 under pressure from both the demand and supply side. Loose monetary policy and stimulative fiscal policy amid the pandemic were the main drivers of strong aggregate demand. While supply-chain disruptions played a significant role in increasing the US PPI, the Russia-Ukraine conflict also sent food and oil prices to their peaks, driving up headline inflation. High services CPI bolstered by housing rents and wages was introducing tenacity to this wave of inflation.

A gloomy outlook for 2023

Although US inflation has moderated from its peak amid the Fed’s aggressive tightening monetary policy, the economic outlook for the US is still gloomy in 2023, as predicted by the inverted interest curve. The high interest rate environment and quivering banking system, a still tenacious labour market and lingering external pressure on commodity prices are all adding uncertainty to the US economy.

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