Inflation is Here, But for How Long?

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This letter is going to be long. I blame word inflation, be it transitory or not, for inflating its length.

The number one question I am asked by clients, friends, readers, and random strangers is, are we going to have inflation?

I think about inflation on three timelines: short, medium, and long-term.

The pandemic disrupted a well-tuned but perhaps overly optimized global economy and time-shifted the production and consumption of various goods. For instance, in the early days of the pandemic automakers cut their orders for semiconductors. As orders for new cars have come rolling back, it is taking time for semiconductor manufacturers, who, like the rest of the economy, run with little slack and inventory, to produce enough chips to keep up with demand. A $20 device the size of a quarter that goes into a $40,000 car may have caused a significant decline in the production of cars and thus higher prices for new and used cars. (Or, as I explained to my mother-in-law, all the microchips that used to go into cars went into a new COVID vaccine, so now Bill Gates can track our whereabouts.)

Here is another example. The increase in new home construction and spike in remodeling drove demand for lumber while social distancing at sawmills reduced lumber production – lumber prices spiked 300%. Costlier lumber added $36,000 to the construction cost of a house, and the median price of a new house in the US is now about $350,000.