- The CPI rose 8.5% on an annual basis in March
- Retail sales rose at a modest 0.5% monthly rate in a March
- The U.S. Small Business Optimism index fell to 93.2 in April, a two-year low
Top Three Market Headlines
Inflation Continues to Sizzle: The U.S. Department of Labor reported last week that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose 1.2% in March from the prior month; on an annual (year-over-year) basis, the increase was 8.5%, the fastest rate since 1981. The "core" CPI, which excludes energy and food costs, registered a 0.3% increase on the month, the slowest increase in six months, on an annual basis, however, the core rate hit 6.5%, up from 6.4% the prior month. Key categories driving the rise in prices in March included gasoline, shelter, and food. In an encouraging sign, used vehicle prices, which had been a key contributor to the CPI increase throughout 2021, fell 3.8% from February to March.
Rising Gas Prices Boost Retail Sales: U.S. retail sales rose at a modest 0.5% monthly pace in March, including the impact of price increases, the U.S. Census Bureau reported last week. Sales at gasoline stations jumped 8.9%, reflecting the recent spike in gas prices. In fact, excluding the impact of gas station sales, total retail sales declined 0.3% from February. Categories that "outpaced" their respective rates of inflation included sporting goods, electronics, and general merchandise. On the other hand, online shopping and auto sales struggled, both falling from the prior month.
Small Business Optimism Wanes: Optimism among U.S. small business owners continued to trend down in March, according to the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB). The NFIB Small Business Optimism Index, which is based on surveys of small business owners, dropped to 93.2 in March, down from 95.6 the prior month and the lowest level since April 2020. Of the 10 components that make up the index, eight declined from March. The biggest drag on the gauge was declining expectations that the economy would improve, as respondents pointed to persistent inflation as an inhibitor of future growth.