WEEKLY ISSUE: Is Inflation Rearing Its Ugly Head or Not?

WEEKLY ISSUE: Is Inflation Rearing Its Ugly Head or Not?

Today is the day that we here at Tematica, and other investors as well, have been waiting for to make some semblance of the recent stock market volatility. Earlier this morning we received the January Consumer Price Index (CPI), one of the closely watched measures of that now dirty word – inflation. As a quick reminder, the market swings over the last two weeks were ignited by the headline wage data in the January Employment Report, as well as other signs, such as rising freight costs that led us to add shares of Paccar (PCAR) to the Tematica Investing Select List earlier this week. This topic of resetting inflation expectations and what it may mean for the Fed and interest rates has been a topic of conversation on recent Cocktail Investing Podcast between Tematica’s Chief Macro Strategist Lenore Hawkins and myself.

 

What the January CPI Report Showed and Its Impact on AMZN, COST and UPS

The headline figures from the January CPI report showed the CPI rose 0.5% month over month in January, which equates to a 2.1% increase year over year. Keeping in sync with the headline figure, which includes all categories, the consensus expectation was for a 0.3% month over month increase. The driver of the hotter than expected headline print was the energy index rose, which climbed 3.0% in January, and we’ve witnessed this first hand in the gasoline price jump of late. Excluding the volatile food and energy components, the “core” CPI index was up 0.3% month over month in January, coming in a bit ahead of the expected 0.2% increase. On a year over year basis, that core figure rose 1.8%, which is in keeping with the 1.7%-1.8% over the last eight months. Month over month gas and fuel prices were up 5.7% and 9.5%, respectively.

Late yesterday, the American Petroleum Institute released data showing a 3.9 million barrel increase in crude stockpiles for the week ended Feb. 9, along with a 4.6 million barrel rise in gasoline stocks and a 1.1 million barrel build in distillates. With crude inventories once again on the rise as US oil production has risen in response to the recent surge in oil prices from September to late January, we’ve seen oil prices retreat to December levels and odds there is more relief to come.

As we wait for others, who if you’ve seen the whipsaw in stock market futures today are simply reacting to the January headline CPI figure, to get some clearer heads about themselves and digest the internals of the report, I’ll share our thoughts on the January Retail Sales report that was also published this morning.

Staring with the headline figure, January Retail Sales came in at -0.3% month over month, falling short of the 0.2% consensus forecast. Excluding auto and food, January core retail sales fell 0.3% month over month; on a year over year basis, retail sales rose 3.9% with nonstore sales leading the way (up 10.2%) followed by gas stations sales (up 9.0% year over year), which is of little surprise given our January CPI conversation above. We do see that nonstore figure as further confirmation for not only our Amazon (AMZN) and United Parcel Service (UPS) shares, but also our Costco Wholesale (COST) ones as it continues to embrace our Connected Society theme.

  • Our price target on Amazon (AMZN) shares remains $1,750
  • Our price target on Costco Wholesale (COST) shares remains $200
  • See my comments below for my latest thoughts on UPS shares

 

Market’s Knee-Jerk Reaction to January Retail Sales Offered Opportunity in PCAR, Not BGFV

Despite the 3.9% year over year January Retail Sales print, the market is focusing on the month over month drop, which was one of the weakest prints in some time. Here’s the thing, we here at Tematica have been talking about the escalating level of debt that consumers have been taking on as a headwind to consumer spending and despite the post-holiday sales, consumers tend to ramp spending down after the holidays. Odds are these two factors led to that month over month decline, but even so up 3.9% year over year is good EXCEPT for the fact that gas station sales are bound to fall as gas prices decline.

If we look at these two reports, my take on it is a skittish stock market is once again knee-jerk reacting to the headline figures rather than understanding what is really going on. The initial reaction saw Dow stock market futures fall from +150 to -225 or so before rebounding to -125. As data digestion occurs, odds are concerns stoked by the initial reactions will fade as well

With market anxiety still running higher compared to this time last year or even just six months ago, I expect the market to cue off the major economic data points to be had in the coming weeks building to the Fed’s next FOMC meeting on March 20-21. As I pointed out on this week’s podcast, at that meeting we’ll get the Fed’s updated economic forecast and I expect that will have chins wagging over the prospects of three or four rate hikes to be had in 2018.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to look for opportunities like I saw with Paccar (PCAR) shares on Monday, and avoid pitfalls like the one I mentioned yesterday with Big Five Sporting Goods (BGFV). And for those wondering, per the January Retail Sales Report, sporting goods sales 7.1% in January. Ouch! And yes, I always love it when the data confirms my thesis.

  • Our price target on Paccar (PCAR) shares remains $85

 

Waiting on Applied Materials Earnings Announcement

After today’s market close, Applied Materials (AMAT) will share its latest quarterly results, and update its outlook. As crucial as those figures are, in recent weeks we’ve heard positive things from semi-cap competitors, which strongly suggests Applied should deliver yet another good quarter and a solid outlook. Buried inside those comments, we’ll get a better sense as to the vector and velocity for its products, both for chips as well as display equipment.

Those comments on the display business will also serve as an update for the currently capacity constrained organic light emitting diode market, one that we watch closely given the position in Universal Display (OLED) shares on the Tematica Investing Select List. I see this morning’s announcement by Universal that it successfully extended its agreement with Samsung though year-end 2022 with an optional 2-year extension as reminding investors of Universal’s position in the rapidly growing technology. With adoption poised to expand dramatically in 2018, 2019 and 2020, I continue to see OLED shares as a core Disruptive Technologies investment theme holding.

  • Our price target on Applied Materials (AMAT) shares remains $70
  • Our price target on Universal Display (OLED) shares remains $225

 

 

Should We Be Concerned About UPS Amid Amazon Announcement?

Several paragraphs above I mentioned United Parcel Service (UPS) shares, and as one might expect the headline reception to the January Retail Sales Report has them coming under further pressure this morning. That adds to the recent news that our own Amazon (AMZN) would be stepping up its business to business logistics offering and competing with both UPS and FedEx (FDX). Of course, this will take time to unfold, but these days the market shoots first and asks questions later. At the same time, we are entering into a seasonally slower time of year for UPS, and while yes consumers will continue to shift toward digital shopping as we saw in today’s retail sales report, the seasonal leverage to be had from the year-end holidays is now over.

 

 

While it may sound like we are getting ready to give UPS shares the ol’ heave ho’, along with the February market gyrations, it’s been a quick ride to the $106 level from $130 for UPS shares, and this has placed them into the oversold category. From a share price perspective, the shares are back to levels last seen BEFORE both the 2017 Back to School and year-end holiday shopping seasons. With prospects for digital shopping to account for an even greater portion of consumer wallets in 2018 and 2019 vs. 2017, we’re going to be patient with UPS shares in the coming months as we wait for the next seasonal shopping surge to hit.

  • Our long-term price target on UPS shares remains $130.

 

Inflation Rising While Wages Are Falling

Inflation Rising While Wages Are Falling

 

Holy hump day – markets look to be rockin’ and rollin’ again today after this morning’s data releases from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

 

First on the dance floor is the U.S. Consumer Price Index (CPI), which rose more than expected.  Headline figure increased 0.5% seasonally adjusted, over the prior month versus expectations for 0.3% increase and 2.1% over the last 12 months, not seasonally adjusted, versus expectations for an increase of 1.9%. Excluding food and energy, rose 1.8% nsa, versus expectations for 1.7%. The recent market fears that the Federal Reserve is going to get more aggressive in how quickly it takes away its loose policy punchbowl are only going to get worse after this report. Hello volatility, we didn’t think you were done with us!

 

Most areas saw price increases over the past year, with the exception of commodities less food and energy, declining -0.7%, new vehicles -1.2%, used cars and trucks, -0.6%, and apparel -0.7%. These declines reveal the lack of retail pricing power, even on the auto lot, reinforcing our Cash-Strapped Consumer investing theme as well as the deflationary power of our Connected Society theme whereby consumers are able to quickly compare prices without incurring any meaningful costs.

 

Next up is the Real Earnings Summary, also from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which found that real average hourly earnings for all employees actually declined -0.2% from December to January, seasonally adjusted. Nominal earnings rose 0.3%, but the 0.5% increase in CPI wiped out that gain. What is even more disconcerting is that the over 80% of the population in the Production and Nonsupervisory Employees category saw their real average weekly earnings declined by 0.8% over the month thanks to both a decrease in real average hourly earnings and a 0.3% decline in average weekly hours. Year-over-year this group saw real average weekly earnings rise a meager 0.2% – again reinforcing our Cash-Strapped Consumer investing theme. Who can possibly feel better off when their weekly take home is basically the same as it was last year?

 

For all the talk of an accelerating economy, the over 80% of workers in the production and nonsupervisory category have now seen their real average hourly earnings decline in 5 of the past 6 months! Remember this when you read about how high Consumer Confidence has reached.

 

Roughly 70% of the economy is dependent on Consumer Spending. Over 80% have seen their earnings decline in 5 of the past 6 months while Consumer Credit has been rising. How much more can they spend?

Consumer Sentiment Closer to Economic Reality than Blankfein?

Consumer Sentiment Closer to Economic Reality than Blankfein?

The CEO and Chairman of Goldman Sachs (GS), Lloyd Blankfein, is arguably one hell of a sharp fellow, which leads us to believe there are reasons behind this that go beyond a straightforward assessment of the economy.

Perhaps consumers see something different than what we hear in the mainstream financial media. The University of Michigan’s Consumer Sentiment Index dropped to 94.5 in June, which was well below expectations for 97.1.

Let’s start with a look at the Citi Economic Surprise Index, better known at the “CESI,” which has hit a multi-year low.

While US stocks look to have decoupled recently from this measure.

But we’re sure that stock prices aren’t anything to worry about. 🙄

The Cyclically-Adjusted Shiller P/E ratio today sits at 29.95, just shy of the 32.54 peak from 1929. The fact that this metric has only been at these levels twice in history, just prior to the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and again before the bursting of the DotCom bubble, is likely immaterial – so say those who derive their paychecks from investors staying fully invested. 🙄🙄

One other thought for those so inclined, in 1929 the Fed rate was at 6 percent – that’s a lot more room to move than we have today.

As we head into the summer driving season, US crude oil stockpiles declined much less than expected while gasoline inventories have actually increased over the past two weeks versus expectations for a decline. Gasoline stockpiles are now above the 5-year average for this time of year as gasoline demand has unexpectedly fallen to well below last year’s level.

According to a recent Bloomberg study, back in March, 31 percent of economists were boosting their GDP forecasts. Today 27 percent are cutting them.

US CPI recently disappointed to the downside, coming in at 1.87 percent versus expectations for 2 percent. Core CPI came in at 1.73 percent versus expectations for 1.9 percent and the 3-month moving average of year-over-year change for Core CPI indicates that this key measure of inflation is rolling over to an impressive degree. This puts that Fed rate hike into a different light!


Used car and truck prices have rolled over hard and are continuing to drop significantly.

Housing has also rolled over, both for multi-family…

and single family…

 

According to the U.S. Commerce Department, housing starts declined 5.5 percent in May, after falling in April and March. Building permits fell 4.9 percent.

The cost of putting a roof over one’s head rolling over has rolled over as well.

The cost of medical care has also rolled over.

While retail sales growth is still pretty decent, it has been declining since early 2015.

Restaurants and bars are having a hell of a tough time, with their businesses experiencing a more severe decline, over the past two years.

Manufacturing inventories remain frustratingly elevated. That is basically capital sitting on the shelves, earning nothing and in many cases wasting away.

 

With elevated inventory levels, not a big surprise to see that U.S. factory output fell in May as manufacturing production dropped 0.4 percent, the second decline in the past three months. Overall factory output was lower in May than in February. Output fell across a wide range of industries, from motor vehicles and parts production to fabricated metal. Manufacturing capacity utilization fell 0.3 percent in May with overall industrial capacity utilization falling 0.1 percent. Where’s the accelerating growth?

There is some good news for a segment of the economy. Online sales continue to command a greater and greater portion of retail sales as our Connected Society intersects with the Cash Strapped Consumer where online shopping is not only fun from one’s couch, but it is a lot easier to compare prices and get the best deal for families concerned with watching their pennies in an economy with weak-to-no wage growth.

The bond market is not telling a tale of accelerating growth, with the 30-year Treasury yield now back where it was in November.

30 Year Treasury Rate Chart

While the 10-2 Year Treasury yield spread is back down to where it was in late 2007.

10-2 Year Treasury Yield Spread Chart

The 30-10 Year Treasury yield spread is also showing a flattening yield curve – more signs of an economy that is do anything but accelerating to the upside.

30-10 Year Treasury Yield Spread Chart

Finally, we have the Bloomberg Commodity Index heading back towards those lows from early 2016, not exactly an indicator of accelerating demand.


Here at Tematica, we are a fairly jovial bunch, with innately optimistic personalities, but we let the data first do the talking and that data is giving us a plethora of warning signs.

Turns out, we aren’t alone in our skepticism as the New York Federal Reserve now expects the economy to grow at an annualized rate of just 1.9 percent in the second quarter!

Inflation waning while bonds dispute moves in stocks

Inflation waning while bonds dispute moves in stocks

Wednesday the Federal Reserve, as expected, raised rates, but even more importantly they release an outline of their plans to shrink the Fed’s balance sheet, which you can read here. We must also note that raising rates in a period of falling bond yields and where the 3-month change in core CPI is collapsing is unheard of, but then very little of U.S. monetary policy these days in within the bounds of normal.

Here are just a few reality checks to keep in mind.

Stocks are experiencing below average volatility and volume

  • On average, the S&P 500 experiences around 50 days where the market moves +/- 1 percent, but so far in 2017 we have experienced only 6 such days.
  • The 30-day NYSE average daily volume is down 16 percent from the post-election peak

Concentrated Gains

  • According to Barron’s, Facebook (FB), Apple (AAPL), Amazon (AMZN), Microsoft (MSFT) and Alphabet (GOOGL) collectively account for about 56 percent of the $1.16 trillion gain in the NASDAQ 100 market cap since the start of the year and are responsible for around 40 percent of the gain in the S&P 500 year-to-date: recall that back in 2000 Microsoft, Qualcomm (QCOM), Cisco (CSCO), Intel (INTC) and Oracle (ORCL) represented about 50 percent of the NASDAQ 100.
  • Collectively the FAANG trade trades at a P/E ratio of 39x, (versus 2017 EPS), which represents a 7-point expansion in 2017 alone.
  • 32 percent of actively managed funds are overweight the tech sector
  • 71 percent of actively managed funds are overweight FANG
  • The returns for the S&P 500 equal weight index is over 3 percent below the S&P 500 market cap weighted index year-to-date

Bonds are not telling a growth story

  • US 10-year Treasury yield has fallen from 2.6 percent in March to just over 2.1 percent today.
  • US 30-year Treasury yield has dropped from a peak of over 3.2 percent in the first quarter to less than 2.8 percent for the first time since November.
  • The Treasury curve, which has been flattening for some time, accelerated this trend this week, with the 10-year to 2-year spread falling below 80 basis points for this first time since last September.

10-2 Year Treasury Yield Spread Chart

The Bottom Line

  • Tops never look like tops until after they are well behind you.
  • They typically occur when investors are most confident.
  • They always occur before we are ready.
Markets Narrowing as Trump Trade Fades

Markets Narrowing as Trump Trade Fades

We are seeing the beginnings of de-risking as for the first time since the election as the S&P 500 has broken below its 50-day trendline, but is still just 3 percent shy of its all-time high, so let’s not get overly carried away here. Volatility, in the form of the CBOE’s volatility index (VIX), rose every day last week and has jumped 24 percent to be at its highest level since November. Meanwhile, those talking heads on mainstream financial media keep focusing on the same thing the herd does – which rarely results in successful investing.

Ten big stocks are exerting an unusually large influence on the S&P 500 in 2017, the latest sign that the herd instinct is alive and well on Wall Street. Those 10 large stocks have powered nearly 53% of the S&P 500’s 4.7% advance this year, according to Fundstrat Global Advisors’ data through the middle of last week. During an average year, the 10 stocks with the greatest impact typically account for only 45% of the market’s price moves, according to analysis of data from AQR Capital Management.

 

Looking at what has happened with core CPI and PPI rolling over as well as current GDP estimates for Q1, we think it is quite likely that non-financial corporate profits may have contracted in Q1 on a quarter-over-quarter basis while rising on a year-over-year basis thanks to the weakness in Q1 2016. Those CPI and PPI numbers tell us that corporate pricing power just isn’t there, a reality that does not support the narrative of “animal spirits” igniting post-election. Nor is the reality of declining productivity in the face of rising unit labor costs, which serve to squeeze margins.

As for that accelerating economy narrative, it is wholly inconsistent with the data coming out of bank earnings reports with commercial loan balances at J.P. Morgan Chase (JPM) and Wells Fargo (WFC) unchanged over Q1 while new auto loans fell 17 percent at JPM and 29 percent at Wells on a year-over-year basis. Citigroup’s (C) profit from consumer banking in North America dropped 25 percent thanks to credit losses on some credit cards while JPM and WFM consumer banking profits dropped 20 percent and 9 percent, respectively.

Treasury bonds benefited from Trump’s talk last week on preferring low-interest rates, despite his criticism of Fed Chair Yellen during his campaign, with the 10-year Treasury falling to levels last seen in November. We suspect there is more room for rates to fall here as all those sentiment surveys sync up with the much weaker hard data.

Rates aren’t just falling here though as the 10-year Japanese sovereign bond yield is now below zero again for the first time since November, with the German 10-year falling below 0.2 percent. With all the talk about the U.S. needing a weaker dollar, gold is moving up, well on its way to cracking $1,300.

The risk-off move is likely driven in large part by the geopolitical tensions ranging from the recent MOAB drop in Afghanistan to North Korea getting cranky again to the upcoming elections in France where a Marie Le Pen victory has become more of a possibility. If however, Macron wins in the second round, we wouldn’t be surprised to see a bit of a rally in those battered French bank stocks.

As the first 100 days of the Trump administration nears its end, we’ve gone from campaign of isolationism to a more aggressive military; the failed healthcare reform plan is returning to center stage while tax reform, deregulation, and infrastructure spending are pushed further back. Those who follow our analysis ought to be unsurprised that the Trump Trade is fading fast.

 

Source: Investors Follow the Herd as 10 Big Stocks Power Market’s Gains – WSJ

I’m all about that base when it comes to inflation

I’m all about that base when it comes to inflation

Last week on our Cocktail Investing podcast, Chris and I spoke about how I’m not so much on board with the rising inflation camp because of the base effect, (Ok, so not quite bass, but close) which has become the phrase of the week in some circles. So what am I looking at that all those who buy into the reflation trade aren’t seeing?

First, let’s look at oil.

By mid-February 2016, the price of oil had fallen nearly 76 percent and was finally finding a bottom around $26 a barrel.

WTI Crude Oil Spot Price Chart

WTI Crude Oil Spot Price data by YCharts

In response, production cuts continued so that by the end of May 2016, rig counts in the U.S. had fallen almost 80 percent from their highs.

US Rig Count Chart

US Rig Count data by YCharts

With such a low base, under $30 a barrel, it didn’t take much for the price of oil to experience enormous gains on a percentage basis. By late February of 2017, the price had risen 108 percent from its February 2016 lows.

WTI Crude Oil Spot Price Chart

WTI Crude Oil Spot Price data by YCharts

Oil is a key input to nearly everything, giving it an outsized impact on prices. Thus a 100 percent increase in the price of oil is going to have an effect, but looking over the past 10 years, today’s price is still relatively low.

WTI Crude Oil Spot Price Chart

WTI Crude Oil Spot Price data by YCharts

To get an idea of where oil prices may head in the future, we like to look at what is happening with rig count, as that tells us about future production coming online. Remember that rig counts had dropped nearly 80 percent as the price of oil plummetted to below $30 a barrel.

US Oil Rig Count Chart

US Oil Rig Count data by YCharts

Unsurprisingly, as the price of oil rose, companies brought more and more oil rigs online, where today we are up over 108 percent from the May 2016 lows. However, we are still well below where we were in October of 2014 when oil was in the $80 range. Keep in mind though that all that pricing pressure has led to cost reductions, such that many extractors can be profitable at lower prices today than just a few years ago. We’ve been reading reports that many shale oil producers can now be profitable at as low as $30 a barrel.

US Oil Rig Count Chart

US Oil Rig Count data by YCharts

More rigs are coming online, and we are just 6 percent below the record high crude inventory levels, which tells me that we are unlikely to see crude prices rise substantially from this point, particularly on a percentage basis, barring any geopolitical shocks. Keep in mind too, that any regulatory rollback by the Trump administration on energy is likely to further reduce the break-even levels and could spur even more domestic production.

It hasn’t been just oil that has seen a dramatic rise in prices since the early parts of 2016.

^SG3J Chart

^SG3J data by YCharts

Copper, Aluminum, Natural Gas, Heating Oil, Lead, Zinc, Silver are all up well into the double-digits on a percent basis from January 2016, after having taken a serious beating early last year. However, it looks as though we may now be starting to see prices level off, which means these inputs would no longer be having an outsized impact on prices due to their exceptionally low price levels back in early 2016.

We’ll be keeping a close eye on these as we head into earnings season and get more insight into what companies are experiencing versus the sentiment that has been blowing the doors off.

Finally, when it comes to the ISM Manufacturing PMI, if we look back at historical norms, this indicator is likely to start rolling over soon, which will really give the market’s reflation narrative a conniption fit!

Inflation is a tricky game

Inflation is a tricky game

On February 19th, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recently reported that inflation, as measured by CPI, remains low in the United States at a non-seasonally adjusted 12 month rate of 2.6%.  On February 12th, 2010 Olivier Blanchard, the IMF’s chief economist, called for central banks to raise their inflation targets, perhaps to 4% from the current standard around 2%.  I find it interesting that this recommendation comes as nations across the globe are facing the momentous challenge of controlling the potential time bomb of their “quantitative easing,” a polite term for printing money, while Germany and the EU debate how to bail out Greece.  Remember that debtors love inflation!

The most widely used measure of inflation in the United States is the Consumer Price Index (CPI), published by the BLS.  According to the BLS,

(1)     The index affects the income of almost 80 million people as a result of statutory action

  • 47.8 million Social Security beneficiaries
  • About 4.1 million military and Federal Civil Service retirees and survivors
  • About 22.4 million food stamp recipients.

(2)     Since 1985, the CPI has been used to adjust the Federal income tax structure to prevent inflation-induced increases in taxes.

The BLS calculates CPI using a weighted basket of goods and services, with occasional substitutions to account for changing preferences, using hedonic regression.  There is much debate over the accuracy of the CPI, but it is clear, given the stakeholders mentioned above that there is a potential conflict of interest for the federal government in reporting accurate data.

(1)     The higher the CPI, the more the federal government’s expenses increase, such as Social Security benefits.

(2)     By keeping CPI below the actual rate of inflation, federal tax receipts rise as tax payers are pushed into higher tax brackets through inflation induced wage increases rather than a true increase in purchasing power.  This is illustrated in the example below.

25%  Bracket Reported CPI Wages Actual Inflation
Year 1 30,000 3% 28,000 8%
Year 2 30,900 3% 30,240 8%
Year 3 31,827 3% 32,659 8%
Year 4 32,782 3% 35,272 8%
Year 5 33,765 3% 38,094 8%

Here we have an individual making $28,000 in Year 1.  His/her wage increases along with the true rate of inflation.  Tax brackets are adjusted according to CPI to prevent an individual or family from being taxed at a higher rate due to inflation rather than as increase real wage rates.  Here we can see that if CPI is reported to be 3%, the bottom of the 25% tax bracket increases by only 3% a year while wages increase at 8% a year.  By Year 3 the individual is squarely in the 25% tax bracket although real wage rates/purchasing power has not increased.  So now they are paying higher taxes, although inflation-adjusted income has remained flat.  This means the federal government can increase tax receipts by creating inflation above the reported CPI.  I’m not aware of any government in history that would be able to resist that temptation!

There’s both opportunity and motive for bias and manipulation.  Be skeptical.  The chart below shows the percentage change in CPI as reported by the BLS starting in 1959 vs. the seasonally adjusted M2 as reported by the Federal Reserve.  M2 is currency, traveler’s checks, demand deposits, and other check-able deposits, Money Market Mutual Funds, savings, and small time deposits.  M3 is considered the best estimate of the money supply and includes time deposits over $100,000, institutional money market funds, short-term repurchase and other larger liquid assets in addition to M2, however the Federal Reserve stopped reporting on M3 in March 2006, thus I have used M2 as an approximation.

CPI has not kept up with the increase in the money supply, thus I would argue that CPI has been understating inflation since around March of 1982.  You might recall that the 10 year Treasury Bond hit a high of 15.32% in September of 1981 under Volcker as he sought to combat a brutal inflationary environment with a sharp spike in interest rates.  At this time as well, unemployment had reached a 26 year high of over 10%.

The BLS states that, “As the most widely used measure of inflation, the CPI is an indicator of the effectiveness of government policy.”  Again, the government is incentivized to show lower CPI.  Be skeptical when there are conflicts of interest.