IMPORT PRICES STILL SOARING

Today’s update on import prices once again paints a troubling picture on pricing pressures.

Import prices jumped 2.8% last month, the U.S. Labor Department reports. That’s the highest since last December’s unnerving 3.2% spike. More troubling is the fact that the 2.8% rise in March is in the upper range for monthly changes going back to the 1980s. Adding insult to injury, import prices soared 14.8% measured over the 12 months through last month, as our chart below shows. That’s the highest 12-month rate in the Labor Department’s archives, which goes back to 1982 as per the web site.

The “good news,” if we can call it that, is that much of the rise in import prices was due to higher energy costs. And energy prices can’t rise forever–we hope. In any case, the 14.8% surge in import prices over the past year falls to 5.4% after stripping out energy. But the lesser rise in non-petroleum import prices is hollow comfort once you recognize that the 5.4% annual pace is the highest since the 1980s. The basic trend, in short, is not in doubt, no matter how you slice the import-price pie.

How troubling is a 5.4% rise in non-petroleum imports? In search of an answer, consider that inflation generally in the U.S. is climbing by 4.0%, based on the annual rise in consumer prices through February. And the nominal (pre-inflation adjusted) annualized pace of economic expansion in 2007’s fourth quarter was 3.0%. In other words:

* non-petroleum import prices are advancing at a roughly 33% faster rate than general inflation
* non-petroleum import prices are rising 80% faster than the nominal growth of GDP

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IMF says US crisis is ‘largest financial shock since Great Depression’


A foreclosure sign in Florida. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

America’s mortgage crisis has spiralled into “the largest financial shock since the Great Depression” and there is now a one-in-four chance of a full-blown global recession over the next 12 months, the International Monetary Fund warned today.

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Fed: Severe Downturn Possible

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Members of the Federal Reserve’s policy-setting committee worried at their most recent meeting that housing and financial market stress could trigger a nasty slide in the economy, even as inflation pushed higher, minutes of the meeting released on Tuesday show.

“Some believed that a prolonged and severe economic downturn could not be ruled out given the further restriction of credit availability and ongoing weakness in the housing market,” minutes of the March 18 meeting said.

Fed economists presented a somber picture of short-term prospects — central bank staff now fully expect negative growth over the first six months of the year — but held out the possibility of a modest rebound later.

“The staff projection showed a contraction of real GDP in the first half of 2008 followed by a slow rise in the second half,” the report said, referring to gross domestic product, a broad measure of a country’s output of goods and services.

At the same time, Fed officials found recent inflation reports “disappointing,” noting also with concern that some indicators of inflation expectations were edging higher.

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Bernanke Warns of Possible Recession

WASHINGTON (AP) – Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said Wednesday a recession is possible and policymakers are “fighting against the wind” in trying to steady a shaky economy. He would not say if further interest rate cuts are planned.

Bernanke’s testimony before the Joint Economic Committee of Congress was a more pessimistic assessment of the economy’s immediate prospects than a report he delivered earlier this year. His appearance on Capitol Hill came amid a trio of economic slumps in the housing, credit and financial areas.

“It now appears likely that gross domestic product (GDP) will not grow much, if at all, over the first half of 2008 and could even contract slightly,” Bernanke told lawmakers. GDP measures the value of all goods and services produced within the United States and is the best barometer of the United States’ economic health. Under one rule, six straight months of declining GDP, would constitute a recession.


Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington,
Wednesday, April 2, 2008, before the Joint Economic Committee.
(AP Photos/Susan Walsh)

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Going Bankrupt: The US’s Greatest Threat

The military adventurers of the George W. Bush administration have much in common with the corporate leaders of the defunct energy company Enron. Both groups of men thought that they were the “smartest guys in the room”, the title of Alex Gibney’s prize-winning film on what went wrong at Enron. The neo-conservatives in the White House and the Pentagon outsmarted themselves. They failed even to address the problem of how to finance their schemes of imperialist wars and global domination.

Read moreGoing Bankrupt: The US’s Greatest Threat