The recent jump in energy prices has stirred fears of inflation and higher interest rates, but some economists still think both inflation and rates are headed lower this year.
The usual spring bump in gasoline prices at the pump, always a jolt to consumers, has been magnified by efforts of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to curtail production. Gas prices were up 3.5% in March.
On world markets, oil prices are now around $16 a barrel, versus $11 last winter. The price jumped 27% in March, the largest rise since October 1990 amid Persian Gulf turmoil.
But even a sustained rise in oil prices may not necessarily mean an across-the-board acceleration in prices. "Energy prices tend to spread to other sectors, but the competitive situation may force firms to swallow cost increases rather than passing them on to consumers in the short run," said economist George Huang of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.
And OPEC has famously had problems enforcing production quota compliance among member states in recent years. "Venezuela already announced it couldn't meet the new quota by the April 1 deadline," Mr. Huang noted. There is "a strong chance that energy price increases will not continue for long," he said.
Inflation elsewhere remains quiescent. The core consumer price index, which excludes volatile food and energy prices, rose at a mere 0.9% annual rate in March, the lowest since 1964.
Economists at Chase Securities Inc. in New York emphasized