Over the past year, a not-so-funny thing happened …
Prices for nearly everything we import into this country went up in a big way.
In a textbook case of "be careful what you wish for," inflation appears to be marching back into the global economy in monster-like fashion: You think he's dead, but that's only so you will lower your guard.
The interesting thing is that it's not just a US phenomenon. It's starting to happen everywhere .
The Bureau of Labor Statistics said last week that US import prices rose 0.2% in February after even larger increases in the prior two months.
That's the largest 12-month jump in import prices since the start of 2012. But the fascinating part is that the jump had nothing to do with oil prices. In fact, petroleum import prices dropped 0.7% in February.
Instead, it was large price gains in the big, boring, important stuff – like industrial supplies – that moved the needle. We have been reporting that North American orders for industrial robots went up significantly in the fourth quarter of 2016. Compared to year ago levels …
- Machinery and other high-value goods rose 7%.
- Building materials jumped 5%.
- Food, beverages and animal feed went up 3.8%.
Over the last 12 months, the price of stuff we ship into the country from elsewhere rose 4.6%.
What makes this trend worth watching is that it's not limited to the United States, where higher prices and higher overall inflation alongside a reviving economy might be expected.
It's happening in Switzerland, where consumer price inflation hit its fastest pace since the middle of 2011.
Nor were Germans Spared, where prices jumped 2.2% in February (after 1.9% gain the prior month) – the largest jump since 2012. It's even leading to calls for the European Central Bank (ECB) to shift toward rising rates again.
"It's high time for the ECB to move away from its ultra-loose monetary policy," said one of Germany's provincial finance ministers.
In Mexico, higher prices for automobiles helped push the annual inflation rate to its highest level in seven years.
It's the same story in Turkey, where inflation levels rose more than 10% – the first time it happened in this important emerging market since 2012.
I can not say I'm surprised. We've been calling for this sort of thing to happen for more than a year.
That prospect will give the Federal Reserve plenty of cover to raise rates further. But it also creates lots of opportunities.
And with gold having sold off from the $ 1,260-an-ounce level a month ago back to a recent $ 1,200, this makes a perfect time to start placing your bets for speculation and protection as that old star of yesteryear – inflation – sweeps back onto the world economic stage.