Mar 31, 2023
French Inflation Slows for First Time in Three Months
(Bloomberg) -- French inflation eased for the first time in three months, tracking slowdowns in other big euro-zone economies after last year’s war-induced spike in energy costs faded.
Consumer prices advanced 6.6% in March — down from from a euro-era record 7.3% in February — as the rise in energy costs petered out. The result, however, was just above the 6.5% median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of analysts.
What’s more, growth in services prices eased only slightly — to 2.9% from 3% in January — while for manufactured goods it accelerated to 4.8% from 4.7%.
Money markets bolstered wagers on rate hikes, pricing a peak of 3.66% by October compared with 3.60% on Thursday. German two-year yields — among the most sensitive to changes in policy — rose 3 basis points to 2.78%.
Opposing inflation trends like those seen in France are a headache for the European Central Bank, which targets a headline number of 2% but is increasingly focused on underlying pressures that exclude items like energy and food. There were signs of similar divergence in Spanish and German data Thursday, despite Spain’s main gauge plunging by almost half to 3.1%.
The ECB’s challenge has been further complicated by the tensions gripping banks around the world, which threaten to hinder credit and curb economic expansion.
In France, underlying inflation is set to gather speed in the coming weeks. Statistics agency Insee said this month that the indicator is likely to hit 6.4% in June — up from the 5.7% it predicted previously.
That’s become a big political issue for President Emmanuel Macron. His government intervened with massive support to offset surging energy costs last year but has few tools to do the same for food and services, and is already under pressure over its unpopular pension overhaul.
Households are increasingly feeling the pinch, with their assessment of recent price increases at the highest since the 1970s. Still, consumers also consider the worst may be over as expectations for future prices have begun to fall.
Separate data Friday from Insee showed a 0.8% drop in consumer spending in February from January as households cut back on outlays for food and manufactured goods. Economists polled by Bloomberg forecast a smaller 0.1% decline.
--With assistance from Ainhoa Goyeneche, Joel Rinneby and James Hirai.
(Updates with market reaction in fourth paragraph.)
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