Easing Inflation Gives Slight Reprieve to Business Owners

Business owners may finally be feeling a bit of relief from the pain of rising prices.

Inflation ticked down in July after months of accelerating at a record pace, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The consumer price index rose by an annual rate of 8.5 percent, which was less than expected and down from the 9.1 percent increase in June, the highest in four decades. The median forecast from economists called for a year-over-year increase of 8.7 percent. On a monthly basis, inflation was unchanged after rising 1.3 percent the month before.

Despite this recent cooling, inflation is still high by historical standards and far above the Federal Reserve’s target of 2 percent. Rising prices remain the most pressing problem for small businesses. More than a third of business owners reported that inflation was the single most important issue facing their business last month–the highest number since 1979, according to the National Federation of Independent Business–and over half of business owners raised their average selling prices in July to offset inflation. Among businesses that reported lower profits last month, 40 percent blamed the increased cost of materials.

“The uncertainty in the small business sector is climbing again as owners continue to manage historic inflation, labor shortages, and supply chain disruptions,” said NFIB chief economist Bill Dunkelberg in a statement on Tuesday. “As we move into the second half of 2022, owners will continue to manage their businesses into a very uncertain future.”

Last month’s slowdown in consumer prices was mostly caused by the decline in fuel costs. Gasoline prices fell 7.7 percent in July. At the pump, gas prices have fallen to a national average of $4.01 per gallon, down from $4.68 in July, according to AAA.

The retreat in gas prices offset the price hikes that are still hitting Americans at the grocery store. The cost of food is up 10.9 percent over the past 12 months, the largest annual increase since 1979. Grocery costs have surged 13.1 percent since last year. For offices offering free coffee to employees, that perk now costs 20.3 percent more than it did last year.

With the price of men’s suits up 20.8 percent over last year, businesses that require a stricter dress code might consider relaxing those standards. Women in the office have had an easier time budgeting their work wardrobe. The cost of women’s suits has increased 5.5 percent from last year, and of dresses only 3.2 percent. Still, dry cleaning that business attire costs 10 percent more than it did in 2021. One of the few items that are cheaper than last year: a company phone. Smartphone prices have decreased 20 percent in the past 12 months.

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