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When Will Consumers Balk at Surging Prices?

When Will Consumers Balk at Surging Prices?

That’s the big question. Looking for signs of widespread push-back but not finding much. Consumers pay whatever.

One of the bizarre factors that has driven the current surge in inflation – the worst in 30 years per CPI-U, the worst in 40 years per CPI-W – has been the sudden and radical change in the inflationary mindset among consumers and businesses.

We saw that in late 2020 and all year in 2021, when prices of new and used vehicles spiked in practically ridiculous ways. People are paying more for a one-year-old used vehicle than what a new vehicle would cost, if they could get it, and they’re paying many thousands of dollars over sticker for new vehicles.

Out the window is the ancient American custom of hunting for a deal. And yet, new and used vehicles are the ultimate discretionary purchase for the vast majority of buyers that can easily drive what they already have for a few more years. But they’re jostling for position to pay these ridiculous astounding prices. And there has been enough demand to keep inventories bare and prices soaring.

During the Great Recession, potential new-vehicle buyers went on a buyer’s strike, and sales collapsed, and two of the Big Three US automakers filed for bankruptcy, along with many component makers, and sales didn’t recover for years. Consumers have this power because vehicle purchases are discretionary. But this time, consumers aren’t exercising their power to put a stop to those price spikes. Instead, they’re paying whatever.

We’ve also seen this with the price of gasoline, which at the end of November had spiked by 59% year-over-year and by 31% compared to November 2019, to an average of $3.38 per gallon, according to the EIA.

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