While many pundits have toasted “easing” inflation in the U.S., American consumers must be left scratching their heads. Sure, U.S. inflation grew at “only” a 3% annual rate in December, down from 3.4% in November, but 3% inflation still doesn’t mean our wallets got any heavier.
The truth is, while we did actually get a break at the pump (if $3.25 gas still can be considered a break), that only helped offset increasing prices for food and other goods. The core U.S. inflation rate was unchanged from November at an annual rate of 2.2% — the highest margin since October 2008.
With the economy still trying to muster a recovery, and unemployment still around 8.5%, any price increases are painful. And just a month into 2012, a spate of headlines points to more hurt ahead. Here’s seven ways inflation will be digging into your wallet this year:
- Already at all-time highs, analysts say U.S. beef prices will climb another 4% to 5% in 2012, largely thanks to droughts that have cattle counts at 50-year lows. And that’s following a 10% increase in 2011. Booming exports as a result of a falling dollar also have hit at home.
- At the beginning of January, increasing coffee and milk prices prompted Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) to announce a 1% price increase across the Northeast and Southwest.
- The USDA predicts a host of other food-price increases, including cereal and bread (4.5%), chicken (4%) and fruit (4%). The agency says that won’t just be felt at the grocery store, but restaurants likely will have to pass on those increases to consumers, too.
- Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE:CL), reeling from a 5%-plus earnings decline in the past quarter, recently said it raised prices in North America by 0.5% in the fourth quarter — its first such hike in more than two years. The maker of dish soaps, toothpaste and other home wares said globally prices were up 3% for the quarter and 1% annually, and 2012 would be similar.
- Gas prices already have gained about 15 cents per gallon — from $3.25 to $3.40 — nationally since the start of the new year. And still looming are threats by Iran to close the Strait of Hormuz, which Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS) analysts say could make crude oil prices jump by $40 per barrel.
- U.S. airlines, in their constant battle with fuel prices, kicked off 2012 with a price hike. Delta Air Lines (NYSE:DAL) announced a $20 increase in round-trip tickets on longer routes a couple weeks ago, and United Continental (NYSE:UAL), Southwest (NYSE:LUV), US Airways (NYSE:LCC) and American Airlines all followed suit.
- Sending a letter? That first-class postage is up 1 cent more in 2012, too. And companies like streaming-video and DVD delivery giant Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) that rely heavily on the mail — Netflix spent up to $600 million on DVD postage in 2010 — could end up passing the favor to its customers. And considering the constant woes of the USPS, another price hike isn’t out of the question.
Kyle Woodley is the assistant editor of InvestorPlace.com. As of this writing, he did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities. Follow him on Twitter at @KyleWoodley.