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Retailers warn inflation is around the corner

March 31, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Brace yourself for higher prices. The top executive at Wal-Mart says retail costs are going up. And if Wal-Mart raises its prices, you can expect other major chains to do the same.

Could inflation be just around the corner? In a recent interview with USAToday on their website, Wal-Mart CEO Bill Simon certainly thinks so, and in a big way too.

"Inflation is an issue that's starting to get into the business. We're keeping an eye on it. It could be something that may impact us later in the year," said Simon.

But each time Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has spoken about the economy, he has said core inflation is not a problem.

Consumers are feeling the pinch because they're paying so much for gas and food. But those commodities are not included in the inflation numbers Bernanke is talking about. However, since most goods in this country are transported by big rig truck, using expensive diesel fuel, expect that to be passed on to those who buy the goods: consumers and retailers.

In fact, Simon predicts prices for clothing and other goods will start going up at his stores and at other retailers by June of this year-- a scary thought.

"Uh, it's a shame because most American families aren't able to afford the prices as they are," said Nick Alexander of Granada Hills.

According to the most recent numbers from the Labor Department, overall inflation is up 1.6 percent over the past year, and core inflation, which doesn't include gas and food, is up a modest 1 percent over the same period. So, serious inflation hasn't hit yet.

Bernanke agrees food and gas are high, but believes those are short-term spikes. But if that changes, he said it would pose a threat.

"Sustain rises in the prices of oil or other commodities would represent a threat both to economic growth and to overall price stability, particularly if they were to cause inflation expectations to become less well-anchored," said Bernanke.

And that's when you can expect the Feds to raise interest rates to combat inflation. But then, raising interest rates could be another issue for consumers.