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Rent Plays a Key Role in CPI & Inflation Measurement

As financial news reports continue to be dominated by inflation statistics, it’s important to realize that rent is 40 percent of the core consumer price index (CPI).

Newsworthy was the spike in core inflation, as the CPI measured a jump in core inflation to 4.5 percent in June, the highest in 30 years.

Frank Nothaft, Executive, Chief Economist, CoreLogic, shared in a recent blog that tenant rent and housing characteristics are used to calculate an “equivalent” rent for owner-occupied homes in the index. During the pandemic, this method may have led to distorted estimates for owner-occupied rent because most tenants live in multi-unit properties whereas 9-in-10 owner-occupants live in one-unit homes.

He wrote that since the pandemic began, families have revealed a preference for single-family homes over high-rise apartment buildings. High-rise properties have had a rise in vacancy and slower rent growth while one-family rental homes have had a decline in vacancy and faster rent growth.

“The owners’ equivalent rent metric in the CPI has shown a slowing in imputed annual rent growth from June 2020 to June 2021, contrary to the acceleration in single-family price growth from 4.5 percent to 17.2 percent, as measured by the CoreLogic Home Price Index,” Nothaft wrote. 

The CoreLogic Single-Family Rent Index registered a pickup in rent growth from 1.4 percent to 7.5 percent during the same time span. Replacing the imputed owners’ equivalent rent with the CoreLogic Single-Family Rent Index shows that core CPI inflation would be 6 percent, or 1.5 percentage points higher in June than was reported.

The last time core CPI inflation was above 6 percent was 1982. Nothaft wrote that “elevated, sustained levels of inflation could prompt the Federal Reserve to increase interest rates sooner than it had planned.”

Inflation forecasts generally indicate that this summer’s bulge is temporary and inflationary pressures should recede in coming months, he wrote. “However, we have noticed that the owners’ equivalent rent generally lags the CoreLogic Single-Family Rent Index by nearly 12 months.

“[And if] this relationship continues in the coming year, then the owners’ equivalent rent growth will quicken and be a headwind to lower inflation. This implies that shelter inflation will likely rise in the coming year and place upward pressure on core CPI inflation measurement.”

So, while the inflation statistics this summer have captured headlines, economic policy mavens often look at a price index excluding food and energy, referred to as the core price index, which tends to be more stable over time and a less noisy barometer of underlying inflationary trends. A focus on rent is key.