More stories

  • in

    Australian PM says inflation numbers ‘pleasing’ amid cost of living pressures

    Australian inflation slowed to an eight-month low in February, data out this week showed, due partly to a fall in holiday travel and accommodation prices, boosting the case for the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) to pause its rate-hike cycle when it meets on Tuesday.”It was pleasing the results, the trend going in the right direction this week with the figures but we know cost of living pressures are there,” Albanese told reporters in Melbourne.Inflation remained “a real issue” and “a global phenomenon”, he said, campaigning alongside the Labor Party’s candidate for the federal seat of Aston, in Victoria state, where a by-election was taking place.Stubborn inflation has posed a challenge for the RBA, which last month lifted its cash rate to its highest level in more than a decade.Amid persistent inflation, cost of living has become a key political issue, and was a focus of last weekend’s election in New South Wales, the country’s most populous state. It was won by Albanese’s state Labor counterpart Chris Minns who campaigned in part on providing cost of living relief. The latest Australian Bureau of Statistics data, released on Wednesday, showed the monthly consumer price index (CPI) rose 6.8% in the year to February, the slowest rise since June. That compared with 7.4% the previous month and market forecasts of 7.1%.Investors, in the wake of the data, cut bets of a 25-basis point hike by the RBA at the next policy meeting to just a 5% chance, compared with 15% before.RBA Governor Philip Lowe has previously said the central bank was closer to pausing its rate hikes as monetary policy was now in restrictive territory, and suggested a halt could come as soon as April. More

  • in

    Mexico sees growth of up to 3% this year, eyes nearshoring boost

    MEXICO CITY (Reuters) -The Mexican economy could grow up to 3.0% both this year and next, boosted by increased manufacturing investment and cooling inflation, according to a copy of the government’s latest budget forecasts seen by Reuters on Friday.The ministry estimates Latin America’s second-biggest economy will expand between 2.2% and 3.0% this year, and between 1.6% and 3.0% in 2024, the document showed, as the country continues to claw back pandemic-led losses.For 2023, the “lower end of the range was adjusted upwards due to the good performance of the domestic economy,” said the document containing preliminary forecasts for next year.Mexico’s inflation rate by the end of this year is seen slowing to 5.0%, and then to 4.0% by the end of 2024.As inflation climbed worldwide, central banks rushed to hike interest rates and slow the trend. Mexico’s central bank raised rates 25 basis points to 11.25% Thursday, but hinted the hiking cycle could be nearing its end.The international rate increases have not compromised Mexico’s public finances, the ministry said.Debt when President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s term concludes next year should be “moderate and diversified,” the ministry said, with around 80.6% denominated in Mexican pesos.The ministry forecast Mexico’s crude oil export mix to average $66.60 per barrel this year, then slip to $56.30 next year, in estimates that are key to public finances since exports from state oil company Pemex represent a major source of tax revenue for the government.The ministry saw total crude output at 1.877 million barrels per day (bpd) this year, mostly coming from Pemex operations, then ticking up to 1.914 million bpd in 2024.The Dos Bocas refinery, a Lopez Obrador project underway in the Gulf state of Tabasco, is expected to begin operating at full capacity next year, the finance ministry said.Mexico is also primed to benefit from private investment fueled by “nearshoring,” the trend of moving production to North America and away from Asia, the ministry said.Nearshoring could add up to 1.2 percentage points to GDP the ministry said, without specifying a time frame.In particular, the ministry anticipated a boost to foreign investment in manufacturing, and said the automotive industry was a “natural candidate” to take advantage of nearshoring.Electric vehicle maker Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) recently announced it would build a “gigafactory” in the northern border state of Nuevo Leon, which local officials have said could bring in up to $10 billion in investment and create 10,000 jobs. More

  • in

    Paying more and earning less: How inflation disproportionately hurts women

    People shop at the Pioneer Supermarkets on January 12, 2023 in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn borough in New York City. 
    Michael M. Santiago | Getty Images

    There’s one group of people that’s being disproportionately hurt by high inflation: women.
    The relentless rise in prices hurts women two-fold. First, a jump in child care prices has started to pressure women out of the workforce. Child care costs in the U.S. have outpaced wage growth in recent years, with day care and preschool prices jumping 5.7% year over year in February 2023 and 25% over the last decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Child care inflation, which has increased 214% from 1990 to 2022, has outpaced average family income gains, which have risen 143%. 

    At the same time, sectors with the highest share of female workers are seeing inflation outpace wage increases. The healthcare and education sectors, of which 75% of workers are women, had the second-to-lowest increase in nominal wages in 2022. 
    The Ellevest Women’s Financial Health Index, which examines indicators such as employment rates, inflation, reproductive autonomy and the pay gap, has found recent progress to be a mixed bag. While the index has slightly risen from its lowest levels in November 2022 — which was lower than at any point during the pandemic — ongoing inflation is casting an overhang on further improvements. Last year’s sharp drop in women’s financial health aligned with inflation levels reaching double digits.

    “While women are paying more, they also earn less,” according to Dimple Gosai, Bank of America’s head of U.S. ESG strategy. “The pandemic made the child care crisis undeniably worse, and inflationary pressures are adding fuel to the fire. Surprisingly, over 50% of parents spend over 20% of their income on child care in the US.” Gosai added that rising child care costs can both keep and push women out of the workforce, undoing progress made in recent years to close the gender parity. 
    “Caregiving responsibilities are preventing more women from getting into, remaining, and progressing in the labor force. This is more the norm than the exception,” said Gosai. “The pandemic worsened this gap, with women taking on more of the additional child care burden than men.”
    The supply crunch in the child care industry stems from low worker retention due to low wages, an issue that predates the Covid pandemic. Child care providers are now faced with a dilemma of offering competitive wages to their workers as well as affordable prices to families and caregivers. 

    “We have seen a negative shock to the supply of child care providers in this recovery, and that could make this problem even worse going forward, but child care costs are more systemic than other shorter-term inflation pressures we’ve seen. Absent public investment, there’s just not much margin to give in this market, and that’s one reason the Treasury department found child care is a failed market,” said Mike Madowitz, director of macroeconomic policy at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth.
    It’s not just women with children who are disproportionately affected by inflation. Women and minorities are underrepresented in higher-wage industries, such as technology or finance, that are more insulated from inflation pressures, Gosai noted. The researcher deemed the phenomenon as “occupational segregation.”
    Furthermore, inflation has made women’s shopping carts become more expensive at a faster rate — exacerbating the problem of the “pink tax,” or the cost premium on goods and services market toward women compared to similar products for men. 

    Long-term implications

    The negative impact of rising prices on women is not just short-term but has long-term implications for their financial well-being. The Bank of America Institute found in January that women’s 401(k) balances are just two-thirds that of men.
    “Because of both [the] COVID and inflation crisis, women are much more likely to have broken into their retirement savings,” said Ariane Hegewisch, program director of employment and earnings at The Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
    “Debt is much higher, [and] rental costs have gone up. So, there’s now an even bigger hole in retirement or in wealth or any kind of security right the financial security that [women] may have, and that needs to be rebuilt.” 
    The Washington Center’s Madowitz said that the Federal Reserve’s aggressive interest rate hikes in its fight against inflation could be “the opposite of helpful in improving women’s economic health and opportunity” in the near-term. The Fed has been raising rates since last year, when the overnight was set at zero. Currently, it sits in a range between 4.75% and 5%.
    Because of this, some are worried that the process of cooling down the economy will have an outsized impact on women, particularly women of color.
    “If the FOMC raises interest rates too high in an effort to reach its 2% inflation target faster, that would hurt worker demand, and harm those already facing more labor market barriers — namely, women workers and workers of color,” Madowitz noted.
    Hegewisch also pointed out that higher rates could lead to higher unemployment, which would hurt women disproportionately.
    “Unemployment is always higher for women of color, and men of color, than it is for others,” noted Hegewisch. “Unemployment is double for black women compared to white women and almost as much for Latinos. And so, if it doubles, it goes [up] at a much higher rate for black women than it does for white women.”
    One solution that may alleviate the pressures of inflation on gender parity is if companies invest more in their employees’ well-being, Bank of America’s Gosai said. She named enhanced reproductive health care benefits, subsidized child care and flexible work arrangements as ways corporations can offset the pressures of higher costs on women. 

    What can be done?

    A critical step to rectifying some of the damage of high prices on women’s economic health and opportunity may also be passing more comprehensive social infrastructure legislation. Madowitz said policies such as President Joe Biden’s failed Build Back Better Act could not only help women’s economic prospects, but also prevent inflation from reaching such high levels in the future. 
    “Those investments in child care, eldercare and healthcare, public education, and income support programs would tackle consistently rising prices by increasing labor supply and women’s earnings, as well as help alleviate a good chunk of the pressure that keeps women out of the labor force and limits their upward mobility,” said Madowitz.
    Rising prices is one portion of the economic barriers that women face — meaning that even after inflation cools, further initiatives must be taken to ensure equal opportunities. 
    “This is an issue that’s ingrained. It’s a bigger issue and it touches so many different sectors and so many different geographies. That it isn’t something that’s just simply eradicated by inflation,” said Gosai. “Women earn 82 cents for every $1 that a man earns. That’s something that doesn’t change [even]  if inflation goes down tomorrow. It’s something that takes a long time to get fixed. … It’s a vicious cycle. 
    “You need more women that are financially independent and empowered to get educated, to enter the job force, and have those opportunities so they could have an equal footing and they can compete equally.”
    — CNBC’s Gabe Cortes contributed reporting More

  • in

    Fed’s Cook: watching credit conditions in calibrating interest rates

    “On the one hand, if tighter financing conditions restrain the economy, the appropriate path of the federal funds rate may be lower than it would be in their absence,” Cook said in remarks prepared for delivery. “On the other hand, if data show continued strength in the economy and slower disinflation, we may have more work to do.”The Fed last week lifted the policy rate by a quarter of a percentage point to a 4.75%-5.00% range, and said “some additional policy firming may be appropriate.” Economic data had been coming in stronger than expected, with inflation showing signs of accelerating and the labor market tight, feeding a mounting sense among Fed policymakers that more aggressive policy tightening would be needed to bring inflation down to the Fed’s 2% goal. But the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank less than two weeks before the Fed’s meeting up-ended that view, and now Cook says the policy outlook needs to balance a focus on economic data with forward-looking analysis.”I am closely watching developments in the banking sector, which have the potential to tighten credit conditions and counteract some of that momentum,” Cook said. More

  • in

    IMF unlocks $5.4 billion in funds to Argentina, boosting reserves

    BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) -The International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved Argentina’s fourth review under its $44 billion loan program on Friday, unlocking the disbursement of $5.4 billion to the indebted country, the lender said in a short statement.The IMF made no mention of Argentina’s request for easing reserve targets that have becoming increasingly difficult to meet amid a historic drought hitting the country’s grains exports, but said a longer statement would be released later.The country’s central bank foreign reserves jumped by $2.5 billion on Friday versus a day earlier, data from the bank showed. That reflected the new IMF funds minus $2.7 billion of repayments Argentina had to make to the lender on Friday.The IMF said its executive board had completed the fourth review of Argentina’s Extended Fund Facility (EFF) which “enables an immediate disbursement” of funds to the country, taking the total given via the program to $28.9 billion.A central bank source told Reuters the funds had arrived and been reflected in reserve levels. Those remain very depleted after drought has hit the country’s grains exports, its main source of dollars, and global inflation has pushed up costs.”The disbursement from the Fund has entered and it will be reflected in the reserves, which rose more than $2.5 billion as a net effect after payments were made,” the source said. More

  • in

    IMF approves $15.6 billion Ukraine loan, part of $115 billion in global support

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The International Monetary Fund said on Friday its executive board approved a four-year $15.6 billion loan program for Ukraine, part of a global $115 billion package to support the country’s economy as it battles Russia’s 13-month-old invasion.The decision clears the way for an immediate disbursement of about $2.7 billion to Kyiv, and requires ambitious reforms of Ukrainian officials, especially in the energy sector, the Fund said in a statement.The Extended Fund Facility (EFF) loan is the first major conventional financing program approved by the IMF for a country involved in a large-scale war. The size of the overall package is meant to signal the global community’s commitment to continue supporting Ukraine in the war, sources said.Ukraine’s previous, $5 billion long-term IMF program was canceled in March 2022 when the fund provided $1.4 billion in emergency financing with few conditions. It provided another $1.3 billion under a “food shock window” program last October.The latest loan is expected to unlock about $100 billion worth of additional international support for Ukraine. An IMF official said the $115 billion package includes the IMF loan, $80 billion in pledges for grants and concessional loans from multilateral institutions and other countries, and $20 billion worth of debt relief commitments.Ukraine must meet certain conditions over the next two years, including avoiding steps that could erode tax revenue, keeping adequate foreign exchange reserves to maintain exchange rate stability, promoting central bank independence and strengthening anticorruption efforts. Deeper reforms will be required in the second phase of the program to enhance stability and early post-war reconstruction, returning to pre-war fiscal and monetary policy frameworks, boosting competitiveness and addressing energy sector vulnerabilities, the IMF said.IMF First Deputy Managing Director Gita Gopinath said the program faced “exceptionally high” risks, and its success depended on the size, composition and timing of external financing to help close fiscal and external financing gaps and restore Ukraine’s debt sustainability.”Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues to have a devastating economic and social impact,” she said, lauding Ukrainian authorities for maintaining “overall macroeconomic and financial stability.”The decision formalizes an IMF staff-level agreement reached with Ukraine on March 21 that takes into consideration Ukraine’s path to accession to the European Union after the war.Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy welcomed the new funding.”It is an important help in our fight against Russian aggression,” he said on Twitter. “Together we support the Ukrainian economy. And we are moving forward to victory!” U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the funding package would help secure economic and financial stability and set the foundation for long-term reconstruction.”I call on all other official and private creditors to join this initiative to assist Ukraine as it defends itself from Russia’s unprovoked war,” Yellen said in a statement. “The United States will continue to stand by Ukraine and its people for as long as it takes.”The IMF said that multiple stakeholders, including international financial institutions, private-sector firms, most of Ukraine’s official bilateral creditors and donors are supporting a two-step debt treatment process for Ukraine that includes adequate financing assurances on debt relief and concessional financing during and after the program.LONGER WAR SCENARIOIMF official Gavin Gray told reporters the fund’s baseline scenario assumed the war would wind down in mid-2024, resulting in the projected financing gap of $115 billion, which would be covered by the multilateral and bilateral donors and creditors.The fund’s “downside scenario” saw the war continuing through the end of 2025, opening a much larger $140 billion financing gap that would require donors to dig deeper, he said.Gray said the program had been designed to function, even if economic circumstances were “considerably worse” than the baseline. He said the countries providing financing assurances had agreed to work with the IMF to ensure Ukraine was able to service its debt to the IMF if larger sums if needed.Ukraine will face quarterly reviews beginning as early as June, he said. More

  • in

    Top Economist Leaves White House, and an Economy Not Yet ‘Normal’

    Cecilia Rouse says lingering effects of the coronavirus pandemic continue to haunt the recovery from recession — and drag on Americans’ optimism for the economy.WASHINGTON — Cecilia Rouse, the chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, stepped down on Friday to return to teaching at Princeton University. As a going-away present fit for an economist, her staff presented her with a chart showing every previous chair of the council, ranked by the number of jobs created during their tenure.Dr. Rouse’s name tops the list. In the two years since she was confirmed to be President Biden’s top economist, becoming the first Black chair of the council, the U.S. economy has created more than 11 million jobs. While that is a record for any presidential administration, it is also a direct result of the unusual circumstances of the fast-moving pandemic recession, which temporarily kicked millions of people out of the labor force before a swift recovery added back most of those jobs.As Dr. Rouse acknowledged in an interview this week, all that job growth has yet to restore a full sense of economic normality. Inflation remains much higher than normal. Consumers are pessimistic. The economy and the people who live and work in it, she said, are still to some degree stuck in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic.That phenomenon has scrambled markets like commercial real estate, Dr. Rouse said, exacerbated price growth and most likely hurt productivity across the economy by encouraging remote work. She said she believed in-person work was more likely to produce innovation that stokes economic growth.The effects have lingered longer than she initially expected.“We still have Covid with us,” Dr. Rouse said in her office at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. “It is still impacting decisions that we’re making, whether it’s on our personal side, economic decisions.”She later added, “Sometimes I, in this course of the last few years, I wished my Ph.D. was in psychology.”In a wide-ranging interview reflecting on her time at the council, Dr. Rouse defended the Biden administration’s policy choices in responding to the pandemic and to deeper problems in the economy. She also repeatedly emphasized the need for “humility” in evaluating decisions that had been made in response to a wide range of possible risks.She did not directly answer questions about whether she agreed with previous chairs of the council who have argued that direct payments to lower-income Americans included in that legislation helped to inflame an inflation rate that hit a 40-year high last summer.But Dr. Rouse said the plan was an appropriate “insurance policy” in 2021 against the possibility of a double-dip recession. At the time, job growth had slowed and new waves of the coronavirus were colliding with a vaccine rollout that officials hoped would stabilize the economy but were unsure of.She also said that American workers were better off in their current situation — with low unemployment and strong job growth but higher-than-normal price growth — than they would have been if the economy had fallen back into recession and millions of people had been thrown out of work, potentially hurting their ability to find jobs in the future..css-1v2n82w{max-width:600px;width:calc(100% – 40px);margin-top:20px;margin-bottom:25px;height:auto;margin-left:auto;margin-right:auto;font-family:nyt-franklin;color:var(–color-content-secondary,#363636);}@media only screen and (max-width:480px){.css-1v2n82w{margin-left:20px;margin-right:20px;}}@media only screen and (min-width:1024px){.css-1v2n82w{width:600px;}}.css-161d8zr{width:40px;margin-bottom:18px;text-align:left;margin-left:0;color:var(–color-content-primary,#121212);border:1px solid var(–color-content-primary,#121212);}@media only screen and (max-width:480px){.css-161d8zr{width:30px;margin-bottom:15px;}}.css-tjtq43{line-height:25px;}@media only screen and (max-width:480px){.css-tjtq43{line-height:24px;}}.css-x1k33h{font-family:nyt-cheltenham;font-size:19px;font-weight:700;line-height:25px;}.css-1hvpcve{font-size:17px;font-weight:300;line-height:25px;}.css-1hvpcve em{font-style:italic;}.css-1hvpcve strong{font-weight:bold;}.css-1hvpcve a{font-weight:500;color:var(–color-content-secondary,#363636);}.css-1c013uz{margin-top:18px;margin-bottom:22px;}@media only screen and (max-width:480px){.css-1c013uz{font-size:14px;margin-top:15px;margin-bottom:20px;}}.css-1c013uz a{color:var(–color-signal-editorial,#326891);-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;font-weight:500;font-size:16px;}@media only screen and (max-width:480px){.css-1c013uz a{font-size:13px;}}.css-1c013uz a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}How Times reporters cover politics. We rely on our journalists to be independent observers. So while Times staff members may vote, they are not allowed to endorse or campaign for candidates or political causes. This includes participating in marches or rallies in support of a movement or giving money to, or raising money for, any political candidate or election cause.Learn more about our process.“I believe workers are better off today than they would have been had the federal government not intervened,” Dr. Rouse said. “But you know, some of this will depend on how long we have inflation with us. Because inflation is costly.” Asked when she expected it to return to more normal levels, she replied, “Hopefully by the end of the year.”Fiscal hawks have criticized Mr. Biden for signing a rescue plan that was not offset by spending cuts or tax increases and thus added to the national debt. Dr. Rouse said the plan “may well have” paid for itself in fiscal terms. She explained that possibility in terms of the debt the government incurred to finance the plan, offset by the consumer and business activity generated by the plan’s provisions that sent money to people, which increased gross domestic product.“If we hadn’t really provided that kind of support, G.D.P. would have been much smaller,” she said. “So the federal government might have spent less and so the debt might have been smaller, but G.D.P. might have been much smaller as well.”Previous administrations have claimed their policies will “pay for themselves” by spurring economic growth and higher tax revenues. Those include the tax cuts signed by President Donald J. Trump in 2017, which his administration said would pay for themselves, but which independent evidence showed added trillions to the national debt.Dr. Rouse repeatedly said in the interview that future researchers would have the final say on the impact of Mr. Biden’s policies — particularly on inflation. She and her staff were part of a modeling effort in early 2021 that concluded that even with Mr. Biden’s $1.9 trillion injection into the economy, there was little chance of prices rising so quickly that the Federal Reserve would not be able to control inflation.“I would say that we were all working under uncertainty,” she said on Thursday, when asked about those models. “I think time will tell as to whether that was the right move.”A labor economist at Princeton, Dr. Rouse pledged in the White House to advance Mr. Biden’s efforts to promote racial equity in the economy and American society. That included improving the data the federal government collects on economic outcomes by race and ethnicity.Asked about that work, Dr. Rouse pointed to new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that breaks out monthly job figures for Native Americans, along with a handful of other new efforts. “It’s a slow process,” she said.Mr. Biden praised Dr. Rouse and her role in helping to navigate the economic challenges of his administration in a statement issued by the White House on Friday. “No matter the challenge, Cecilia provided insightful analysis, assessed problems in a new way and insisted that we examine the accumulation of evidence in drawing conclusions,” he said. More

  • in

    The Fed’s Preferred Inflation Gauge Cooled Notably in February

    A closely watched measure of price increases provided encouraging news as the Fed considers when to stop raising rates.The measure of inflation most closely watched by the Federal Reserve slowed substantially in February, an encouraging sign for policymakers as they consider whether to raise interest rates further to slow the economy and bring price increases under control.The Personal Consumption Expenditures Index cooled to 5 percent on an annual basis in February, down from 5.3 percent in January and slightly lower than economists in a Bloomberg survey had forecast. It was the lowest reading for the measure since September 2021.After the removal of food and fuel prices, which are volatile from month to month, a “core” measure that tries to gauge underlying inflation trends also cooled more than expected on both an annual and a monthly basis.The data provides the latest evidence that inflation has turned a corner and is decelerating, though the process is gradual and bumpy at times. And the report is one of many that Fed officials will take into account as they approach their next interest rate decision, on May 3.Central bankers are watching how inflation, the labor market and consumer spending shape up. They will be monitoring financial markets and credit measures, too, to get a sense of how significantly recent bank failures are likely to weigh on lending, which could slow the economy.Fed officials have raised rates rapidly over the past year to try to rein in inflation, pushing them from near zero a year ago to just below 5 percent this month. But policymakers have suggested that they are nearing the end, forecasting just one more rate increase this year.Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, hinted that officials could stop adjusting policy altogether if the problems in the banking sector weighed on the economy significantly enough, and policymakers this week have reiterated that they are watching closely to see how the banking problems impact the broader economy.“I will be particularly focused on assessing the evolution of credit conditions and their effects on the outlook for growth, employment and inflation,” John C. Williams, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, said during a speech on Friday.But inflation remains unusually rapid: While it is slowing, it is still more than double the Fed’s 2 percent target. And the turmoil at banks seems to be abating, with government officials in recent days saying that deposit flows have stabilized.“Even with this report, the U.S. macro data is still on a stronger and hotter trajectory than appeared to be the case at the start of this year,” Krishna Guha, head of the global policy and central bank strategy team at Evercore ISI, wrote in a note after the release.In fact, officials speaking this week have suggested that they might need to do more to wrangle price increases, and they have pushed back on market speculation that they could lower rates this year.“Inflation remains too high, and recent indicators reinforce my view that there is more work to do,” Susan Collins, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, said at a speech on Thursday. Ms. Collins does not vote on policy this year.The report on Friday also showed that consumer spending eased in February from the previous month. A measure of personal spending that is adjusted for inflation fell by 0.1 percent, matching what economists expected. But the data was revised up for January, suggesting that consumer spending climbed more rapidly than previously understood at the start of the year.And when it comes to prices, some economists warned against taking the February slowdown as a sign that the problem of rapid increases was close to being solved. A measure of inflation that excludes housing and energy — which the Fed monitors closely — has been firm in recent months.“That acceleration in underlying inflation measures is what has set off alarm bells at the Federal Reserve and prompted officials to stick to rate hikes, despite the recent credit market volatility,” Diane Swonk, chief economist at KPMG, wrote in an analysis Friday.And Omair Sharif, founder of Inflation Insights, said much of the February slowdown came from price categories that are estimated using statistical techniques — and that can sometimes give a poor signal of the true trend.“I really would not bank on this number,” he said in an interview. “My expectation would be that we’ll probably see some of this bounce back next month.” More