Inflation in America Inc
Businesses contend with a long-forgotten problem
Property insurers price policies today but face payouts a year from now. That makes their profits hostage to inflation. As swathes of America’s economy have begun rapidly reopening for business in recent weeks, thanks to falling rates of covid19 infections and rising ones of vaccination, William Berkley has been paying close attention to prices of building materials and anything found inside homes, from lamps to laptops. The replacement value of a home in America may have leapt by 20%, year on year, Mr Berkley thinks. Since the founder of WR Berkley launched his insurance firm over half a century ago, he has never witnessed a time like the past year— not even in the inflationary 1970s.
Economists debate whether the rapid climb in consumer prices, which rose at an annual rate of 4.2% in April, the fastest since September 2008, will prove as enduring as 50 years ago. Input prices for producers shot up by 6.2%.
The Federal Reserve insists that higher inflation will be “transitory”. Partly for that reason, chief executives of many big American companies are wary of discussing inflation in public. When Darius Adamczyk, who heads Honeywell, a huge industrial conglomerate, mentioned during an earnings call in May that inflation “is here and it is probably a lot more pronounced that people think”, his comment went viral among financial types on the internet.