GOOD ECONOMIC NEWS ACCOMPANIED BY PRICE GOUGING AND INFLATION

Note: If you find my posts too long or too dense to read on occasion, please just read the bolded portions. They present the key points I’m making and the most important information I’m sharing.

There is good economic news, in case you missed it, which is likely because the mainstream media tend to give it little coverage. The bad news is that price gouging and inflation continue. Multiple ways to tackle them will be presented in my next post.

Good economic news:

  • The number of workers receiving unemployment benefits (1,384,000) is at the lowest level since Jan. 17, 1970, i.e., over 52 years ago. Applications for unemployment benefits are below pre-pandemic levels. [1]
  • Employers posted 11.5 million job openings in March, an unprecedented two job openings for every unemployed person.
  • The economy has generated over 400,000 jobs per month for an unprecedented 12 consecutive months.

Bad economic news:

  • Inflation remains high at 8.3% in April, although it was down a bit from 8.5% in March. Major contributors were airlines’ fares (up 33.3% with only a small fraction attributable to higher fuel costs), energy prices (up 30%, see below for some background), and food (up 9.4%, the highest rate in 40 years).
  • Gasoline prices continue to be a key driver of consumer “inflation.” However, price gouging seems like a more accurate description as gasoline prices have gone up or remained very high despite falling or stabilizing prices for a barrel of crude oil. Moreover, Exxon Mobil and Chevron, the largest U.S. oil corporations, reported soaring profits again for the first quarter of 2022. Exxon Mobil reported $5.5 billion in profits for the quarter despite a $3.4 billion loss from abandoning its operations in Russia. Chevron reported $6.3 billion in profits for the quarter, over four and a half times its profits in the first quarter of 2021. [2] Energy giant Shell reported record first quarter profits of $9.1 billion, up from $3.2 billion the previous year. This prompted calls from the British government to impose a windfall profits tax on the London-based corporation. [3] (More on a windfall profits tax in my next post.)
  • Top executives of six of the largest oil and gas corporations were called to appear before Congress. They refused to commit to lowering gas prices for consumers. They refused to reduce record profits, dividends to shareholder, or buying of their company’s own stock. Over the last year, they’ve spent roughly $40 billion buying back their own corporations’ stock, which drives up the stock price, rewarding themselves and other shareholders. [4]
  • The oil and gas executives also refused to increase production of gasoline, which would tend to lower prices.

Josh Bivens, Director of Research at the Economic Policy Institute, describes consumer inflation as “corporate … greed and market power … channeled into much higher prices and profit margins.” He notes that “normally corporate profits should be about 12% of the cost of anything … [but now] corporate profits [are] accounting for 54% of the total rise in prices.” He notes that increased costs of labor are not driving inflation as they are lower than the overall rate of inflation. Corporations, he states, are able to increase prices and profits now because unusual events have distorted the normal operation of the economy. [5] In other words, this “inflation” is opportunistic price gouging by the airlines, the oil and gas corporations, the meat packers, and others.

In my next post, I’ll summarize four ways to attack the current inflation and its harmful effects, as well as one traditional way of reducing inflation that will probably be counterproductive.

[1]      Ott, M., 5/6/22, “More Americans applied for jobless aid last week,” The Boston Globe from the Associated Press (Note the negative headline on an article that had overwhelmingly good news.)

[2]      Business Talking Points, 4/30/22, “Exxon Mobil and Chevron report soaring earnings,” The Boston Globe from the New York Times

[3]      Business Talking Points, 5/6/22, “Shell earnings soar on higher oil prices,” The Boston Globe from the Associated Press

[4]      Joselow, M, & DeBonis, M., 4/7/22, “Panel grills oil company executives,” The Boston Globe from the Washington Post

[5]      Martinez, A., host of Morning Edition, 5/10/22, “Are corporations using inflationary times to raise prices and up their profits?” National Public Radio (https://www.npr.org/2022/05/10/1097820864/are-corporations-using-inflationary-times-to-raise-prices-and-up-their-profits)

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