Consumer prices leapt higher in April, data released on Wednesday showed, a much-faster-than-expected jump that could resonate on Wall Street as investors try to determine if inflation could alter Federal Reserve policy.
The Consumer Price Index climbed 4.2 percent during the month, from a year earlier, the Labor Department said, the fastest pace of increase since 2008. From March to April, prices increased 0.8 percent. Economists had expected the C.P.I. to rise 3.6 percent over the year, and 0.2 percent from the month before, based on the median forecast in a Bloomberg survey.
The core index, which strips out volatile food and energy, rose 0.9 percent in April from March — its biggest monthly increase since April 1982.
Prices are shooting higher as inflation figures lap extremely weak readings from 2020 and as supply chain disruptions begin to bite and demand climbs. The monthly increase in April was broad-based, as prices for used cars accelerated and the cost of air travel, shelter and home furniture also increased.
Central bankers have previously said they think the jump in prices will be short-lived, and have made it clear that they plan to look past a temporary increase when setting policy. The technical quirks at work in April will last only a few months, officials point out, and while it is less clear when shortages will be resolved, they are expected to eventually work their way through the system as businesses ramp up production to meet demand.
But the concern on Wall Street, and among some economists, is that the fast recovering economy, huge stimulus efforts from Washington and pent-up demand from consumers could mean that price gains are more pronounced or sustained than the Fed can tolerate.
A key part of the central bank’s role is to keep price increases contained, so a steep acceleration in prices that is expected to last might prompt it to dial back policies that keep money cheap and credit flowing. Reducing the support would probably cause stock prices to sink.
While the Fed defines its inflation target using a separate measure, the Personal Consumption Expenditure index, that metric relies on data from the C.P.I. and is also expected to move above the central bank’s goal. Fed officials aim for 2 percent annual inflation on average.
Central bankers have been clear that they would react if, contrary to their expectations, signs of a persistent price takeoff emerged. But they have also said they want to avoid withdrawing support from the economy early, which could leave the labor market incompletely healed and put longer-run inflation at risk of returning to uncomfortably low levels, where they have been mired for much of the past decade.
Lael Brainard, a Fed governor, said during a speech on Tuesday that “remaining patient through the transitory surge associated with reopening will help ensure” the economic momentum to “reach our goals.”