In September, U.S. inflation was … well, what was it?

We don’t know the answer to this question because of the partial U.S. government shutdown. The Bureau of Labor Statistics was due to release its September inflation report today at 8:30 a.m., but it is has not been gathering data since Sept. 30. So … no report. Instead we get this notice on the BLS site:

This website is currently not being updated due to the suspension of Federal government services. The last update to the site was Monday, September 30. During the shutdown period BLS will not collect data, issue reports, or respond to public inquiries. Updates to the site will start again when the Federal government resumes operations. Revised schedules will be issued as they become available.

Update: The BLS now says it will release the CPI report on Wednesday, Oct. 30. Here is the update – 0.2% inflation in September.

This inflation number, known as the Consumer Price Index, is important. For example, the September inflation rate is the final piece used by the Social Security Administration to determine its annual cost-of-living adjustment for beneficiaries. Of course, CPI-U is also used to set the daily principal adjustment for Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities, and goes into the data determining the future interest rate paid by US Savings I Bonds.

So now what? The Wall Street Journal reports today that the Treasury will now be forced to generate its own data. The figure will be based on the last available 12-month change in CPI, which was a meager 1.5% (one of the lowest of recent years). From a Treasury document:

(iv) If the CPI for a particular month is not reported by the last day of the following month, we will announce an index number based on the last available twelve-month change in the CPI. We will base our calculations of our payment obligations that rely on that month’s CPI on the index number we announce.

(The principal adjustment for TIPS has already been established through Oct. 31, so there is no immediate effect from the delayed data. For example, here are the data for the 30-year TIPS being reissued on Oct. 24.)

The Journal also notes that the BLS has already gathered the September data, so once the shutdown ends, it can issue the report very quickly. But the October report is in jeopardy because the agency has not been gathering data for more than half a month.

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