Profit-Pushed Inflation?

Most of America is complaining about inflation, and more than half of Americans blame that inflation on President Biden, but is the President, any President, for that matter, the one to blame?

Federal Reserve research found that “corporate profits contributed a large percentage to inflation in the first year and contributed much less in the second” after the pandemic. In particular, Fed researchers found that corporate profits accounted for all the inflation in the first year of the pandemic recovery (roughly July 2020 to July 2021) and 41 percent of inflation overall in the first two years of the post-pandemic recovery (July 2020 to July 2022).

But that was just the beginning. According to one study, corporate profits hit an all-time high in 2023. Profit margins were above 15 percent – a level not seen since the 1950s. Another found that corporate profits after tax were at 11.08% in the fourth quarter of 2023, compared to 10.93% last quarter and 10.79% last year. This is 54% higher than the long-term average of 7.19%.

In fact, corporations raised prices on consumers – not to offset inflation – but to increase their own profits. In February, Fortune printed a story pointing out that corporate profits drove 53% of inflation during the second and third quarters of 2023 and more than one-third since the start of the pandemic. Comparatively, over the forty years prior to the pandemic, profits drove just 11% of price growth, while, since the beginning of the pandemic, corporate profits as a share of national income have skyrocketed by 29%

In addition, although consumer prices rose by 3.4% over 2023, input costs for producers have only risen by 1%, and in many sectors producers’ prices have actually decreased without corporations passing on those savings to consumers.

In just one example, in 2021 PepsiCo announced that it was “forced” to raise prices, despite record profits of $11 billion. Then in 2023, PepsiCo announced another price increase, of more than 10%. Interestingly enough, PepsiCo’s only major competitor, Coco-Cola, followed a similar pricing model, with its CEO claiming that Coco-Cola had “earned the right” to price hikes because its products were popular. How was that possible? Because, with a combined total of nearly 92%, three companies control the U.S. carbonated soft drink market – Coco-Cola (44%), PepsiCo (26%), and Dr. Pepper/Keurig (22%)

Likewise, in the area of meat products, by the end of 2023, Americans were paying at least 30 percent more for beef, pork, and poultry products than they were in 2020. Might it just be because four companies now control the processing of 80% of beef, 70% of pork, and nearly 60% of poultry?

Such near monopoly power goes beyond soft drinks and meat products. In 75% of U.S. industries, fewer companies control a greater percentage of their markets than they did twenty years ago.

Complain all you want about inflation, but at least place the blame on the largest cause – corporate greed.

5 thoughts on “Profit-Pushed Inflation?”

  1. Lourain says:

    Isn’t the first rule of capitalism, “Charge all the market will bear”?

    1. Tim says:

      @Lourain. This was taught in the business modelling course I attended years back and I am sure that has not changed since then.

      It is “business”

  2. KevinJ says:

    Fortunately, if it gets to the point that consumers can no longer afford bread, I’m sure the corporations will let them eat cake.

  3. KTL says:

    There has been a supreme reluctance from Congress to revisit antimonopoly laws and enforcement in recent decades – though there certainly is justification for using the power of government to rein in monopolies and monopolistic practices. That’s a shame too, because use of such regulations had kept American business diversified and competitive through a good part of the 20th century.

  4. Christopher Robin says:

    New Republican Platform: It’s all Biden’s fault that companies are seeing record profits and increasing inflation.

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