All of these increases are related, and they all spell serious trouble for the U.S. economy.
Energy costs are driving up the price of all consumer goods and services. Raw materials, production and transportation costs are all being pushed higher because of the price of oil.
U.S. crude for March delivery jumped $4.51, closing yesterday at $100.01 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The previous record close was $99.62 on January 2, 2008. It has never closed above the century mark until now.
In a recent shopping trip, we found single rolls of Scott toilet tissue selling at a national drugstore chain for $1.15 a roll. I’ve never seen single rolls of toilet paper priced at or above $1.00 a roll. The cost of paper products seems to have increased 25-30% within the space of a few weeks.
And with Americans hard pressed to stretch every dollar, Wal-Mart continues to post record sales figures despite the widespread belief that retailers such as Wal-Mart are major contributors to the nation’s economic problems. The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union says Wal-Mart employs more than one million U.S. workers, earning an average of $8.00/hour.
If you need a better feel for what $100 billion actually means, it’s the same as saying “one hundred thousand million dollars”. It’s $100,000,000,000.00 …and that’s just for the fourth quarter of 2007. That works out to more than $1 billion a day, or put another way, more than a thousand million dollars every day. That translates to $400 billion a year if they continue those figures for four quarters. At this rate, Wal-mart, the world’s largest retailer and the largest private employer in the U.S. (see this UFCW fact sheet), will have a trillion dollars in annual sales before long.
The prices mentioned above are significant milestones, even if the specific numbers are not economically significant. It’s similar to when U.S. gasoline prices went above $1.00/gallon for the first time, back in the Summer of 1979. We feel that they portend even higher prices in the near future. Expect sharp increases to continue in the cost of living and inflation. Expect the size of those rolls of toilet paper to continue shrinking, while the price continues heading North. If you have any letters to mail, better do it soon. On second thought, use e-mail.
Trips to the supermarket are getting more painful every week. All of the basic grocery items, bread, milk, eggs, cereal, etc. are rising sharply. For instance, we’ve seen the price of a dozen eggs almost double in the last few months. Too bad gasoline doesn’t taste better, because milk is now almost double the price of gasoline, per gallon. It makes you wonder if the cows are the ones who are getting milked. We’ve seen some bakeries raising prices so often that they don’t even wait until their old packaging is used up before they raise the price. They are covering the printed prices on their plastic bags with stickers showing the new price. I’ve seen that some boxes of cereal have shrunk to less than 9 ounces. For instance, I spotted a 8.9 ounce box of General Mills Cheerios.
Who decides on these strange product sizes? Did a committee of pricing experts say that 9 ounces was way too big, but 8.75 ounces looked too small ? It’s voodoo marketing. It’s deception engineering. What’s next? The 8.1275 ounce box of Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes?
We can’t remember any time in the past 30 years that the cost of living has risen so sharply and for so long a period of time.
Just nine months ago, the Postal Service raised the first class postage rate (up to one ounce) by two cents, to 41 cents. They have just announced another increase to take effect this Spring. No wonder they introduced their “Forever” stamp. They saw these frequent rate increases coming, and probably wanted to limit the public outcry. Unless you have lots of money to tie up in “Forever” stamps, the idea of locking in your postage rate is pretty meaningless. You’d be much better off investing your money anyway. What we need is the “Forever” gallon of gasoline and the “Forever” quart of milk. Shoppers going to the supermarket are behaving more and more like stock market speculators every day. Should I buy that loaf of bread today? I really don’t need bread yet, but it might be 30 cents more tomorrow. Better fill up the car today, because the radio just said the price of a barrel of oil hit a record high yesterday, and that means the price at the pump will be going up in the next couple of days.
With these almost daily price increases and product downsizings, what we need is a new way of tracking the true cost of living. Forget about the U.S. government’s inflation index. Forget about the “market basket” price surveys. Forget about The Lundberg survey of gasoline prices. What this country needs is “The RoutingByRumor National Toilet Paper Price Survey”, adjusted of course, for the shrinking size of toilet paper rolls. Laugh all you want. We think it will be a very accurate gauge of inflation.