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Inflation in rich economies surges to a 25-year high


Inflation in the world’s rich economies has hit a 25-year high, fuelling concerns about the rising cost of living for households and adding pressure on central banks to raise interest rates.

The annual pace of consumer price growth in the OECD group of developed nations hit 5.8 per cent in November according to data released on Tuesday, up from just 1.2 per cent in the same month the previous year and the highest rate since May 1996.

The increase was driven by energy prices, which soared by 28 per cent, up more than three percentage points from the previous month to the highest rate since June 1980. Food price inflation also picked up strongly to 5.5 per cent, from 4.6 per cent in the previous month.

The data came as the incoming governor of Germany’s central bank warned that inflation could remain high for longer than economists expect.

Joachim Nagel, who succeeded Jens Weidmann as Bundesbank president and a member of the European Central Bank’s governing council this week, said: “Citizens have considerably less money left in their wallets . . . Many people are concerned about this loss of purchasing power.”

He said this raised several questions, including: “Is the very loose monetary policy still appropriate? If so, for how much longer?”

In the US, the eurozone and the UK, inflation is running at more than double the 2 per cent target set by their central banks.

Line chart of Annual % change in consumer price index, OECD average showing Inflation in rich countries hits a 25-year high

Eurozone inflation hit 5 per cent in the final month of last year, flash figures released last week showed. US figures for December set to be released on Wednesday are expected to show an increase to 7 per cent according to economists polled by Reuters. In the UK, consumer prices rose by 5.1 per cent in November.

The world’s leading central banks have indicated that they are likely to start tightening monetary policy in the coming months.

The Bank of England raised its policy rate for the first time in three years in December and the US Federal Reserve has warned that it may have to increase rates more quickly than previously planned. The European Central Bank announced in December that it would halt its pandemic-era bond purchases in March.

Several European governments have stepped in to mitigate the impact of steeply-rising energy costs. France, Spain and Italy have all pledged aid to cushion the hit for poorer households. Last week Christian Lindner, the new German finance minister, vowed to do the same.

Speaking on Tuesday, he said: “Many people are looking at the inflationary trends with concern,” adding that the German government was “closely watching the debate”.

However, some economists expect inflation to moderate later this year.

Ben May, economist at Oxford Economics, said that the pace of price growth in the US and eurozone was almost at its peak, while in Canada and the UK it would peak in April. Consumer price growth in advanced economies “will fall sharply in 2022”, he said, reflecting a combination of weaker energy costs and core inflation.

Eurozone inflation “is likely to have topped out at the end of 2021”, said Silvia Ardagna, economist at Barclays. However, she added that the record level reached by producer prices in most countries in November “suggests that inflationary pressures may persist in the coming months as companies may eventually pass the increase in production costs on to consumers”.

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