A key inflation measure set for release Thursday morning is expected to show that prices continued to climb at the fastest pace in 40 years.
But the data could also show some moderation in how much costs are going up each month — a potential silver lining as consumers wait for price pressures to lessen after a bruising year.
Economists expect the Consumer Price Index data for January to show that prices climbed by 7.2 percent over the past year, up from 7 percent in December. That would be the fastest clip since February 1982.
But prices are expected to have climbed 0.4 percent in January from the prior month. That is unusually rapid, but it is a moderation from the biggest monthly increases last year, which came in as high as 0.9 percent.
Forecasters anticipate that inflation will ease meaningfully in 2022: Many expect it to finish the year closer to 3 percent. But economists regularly predicted that price gains would fade quickly in 2021, only to have those projections foiled as booming consumer demand for goods collided with roiled global supply chains that could not ramp up production fast enough.
The recent spike in prices for food, fuel, cars and other goods has become a problem for both the Federal Reserve, which is responsible for keeping prices stable, and the White House, which has found itself on the defensive as rising costs eat away at household paychecks and detract from a strong labor market with solid wage growth.
On Wednesday, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, tried to put a positive spin on the numbers, acknowledging that the data to be released Thursday would most likely show a high reading for the year but that the trajectory is for prices to decrease.
“We expect a high year inflation rate reading in tomorrow’s data, given what we know about the last year,” Ms. Psaki said, adding that “it’s not about the recent trends.”
“Inflation is expected to decrease over the course — and moderate — over the course of this year,” she said.
Even so, the new data could add to the urgency for the Fed to begin weaning the economy off the rock-bottom interest rates that have been in place since March 2020.
Fed officials have signaled that they will begin raising rates at their meeting next month. Higher rates can slow down consumer and business spending by making it more expensive to finance a car, house or machine purchase. Policymakers have also suggested that they will soon begin to shrink their balance sheet of bond holdings, which should push up longer-term interest borrowing costs and further cool off the economy.
Investors now expect that central bankers might lift interest rates six times this year as they try to slow down the economy and tamp down price gains.