Economists Discount April Inflation Increase

By John S. McClenahen With U.S. gasoline and electricity costs on the rise -- and expected to continue for at least another month -- April's 0.3% acceleration in the CPI seems ominous. But in fact it was below the consensus forecast for a 0.4% rise. What's more, several leading economists simply do not foresee the kind of broad-based inflation that could cause the Federal Reserve to reverse its recent course of interest rate cuts and start to tighten the money supply. "We believe that inflation fears are completely unjustified," succinctly states Bruce Steinberg, chief economist at Merrill Lynch & Co., New York. He notes that the so-called core CPI -- which subtracts highly variable energy and food costs from the rest of the consumer price index -- edged up just 0.2% in April. "We expect core inflation to gradually edge down through the rest of the year," adds Steinberg. "Overall inflation is not a concern even though energy costs continue to dominate the economic landscape," says David Huether, an economist at the National Assn. of Manufacturers, Washington. He believes that while inadequate capacity is pushing energy prices up, elsewhere in the economy prices are constrained by depressed demand as inventories, especially for manufactured durables, continue to be worked off. "With economic growth bumping along close to zero, and expected to remain below potential over the balance of the year, competitive pressures should dampen price hikes," says Maury Harris, economist at UBS Warburg LLC, New York.

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