Record Surge in Used-Car Prices Is Key Culprit in Inflation Jump


An unprecedented surge in prices for used cars was the biggest contributor to the surprise jump in U.S. inflation last month.

The cost of previously owned sedans, pickups and sport-utility vehicles soared 10% in April, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the fastest climb ever in data that go back to 1953. It accounted for more than a third of the 0.8% increase in the consumer price index, which was four times the level economists estimated.

With fewer new cars being made amid a shortage in critical semiconductors, both retail consumers and rental car companies have gone to the used-vehicle market to get the wheels they need. Wholesale prices have soared as a result, up 54% in April from a year earlier at Manheim, the nation’s largest vehicle auction house.

Most analysts say the increase in car prices, like the spike in inflation as a whole, will likely be transitory as production ramps up and demand subsides. Auto sales had soared amid a pandemic-era boom in road trips and hesitancy to take public transportation, trends that look likely to fade over coming months.

“This won’t last forever,” said Maryann Keller, an independent auto industry consultant in Stamford, Connecticut. “Things will get back to normal.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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