What is the difference between CPI, PPI and PCE?

Inflation is an economic term that describes the general increase in prices and fall in the purchasing value of money over time.

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What is the difference between CPI, PPI and PCE?

Understanding inflation and the overall price level of goods and services within an economy is critical in economics. Economists and policymakers use various indices to measure price changes and inflationary trends. Three of the most important indices are the Consumer Price Index (CPI), the Producer Price Index (PPI), and the Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) Price Index. These indices serve as economic indicators, each offering a unique perspective on price changes and catering to different aspects of the economy's health. This essay elucidates the differences between CPI, PPI, and PCE, highlighting their unique methodologies, coverage, and usage in economic analysis and policymaking.

What is Inflation?

Inflation is an economic term that describes the general increase in prices and fall in the purchasing value of money over time. When inflation occurs, each currency unit buys fewer goods and services than before; the money is losing value, impacting online trading and several different tradable assets. 

There are several types of inflation. Demand-pill inflation occurs when demand exceeds supply, causing prices to rise. Cost-push inflation occurs when production costs increase, leading to decreased supply and higher consumer prices. Built-in inflation, a wage-price spiral, manifests when workers demand higher wages to keep up with rising living costs. Employers pass these higher labor costs on to their customers through higher prices, leading to a cycle of inflation.

What are the Different Measures of Inflation

The Consumer Price Index (CPI), developed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), represents the changes in prices of a basket of consumer goods and services purchased by households. The CPI is a crucial measure of inflation from the perspective of consumers. It includes housing, transportation, food, medical care, education, apparel, and recreation.

CPI measures out-of-pocket expenditure by households. It is based on a fixed basket of goods and services, with weights updated periodically to reflect changing consumption patterns. The BLS collects data from retail and service establishments to calculate CPI. CPI includes sales and excise taxes directly associated with prices for specific goods and services.

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) is typically released monthly in the United States. It is compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and released through a report that offers detailed analysis regarding the fluctuations in prices from the previous month and over the preceding 12-month period. The report is usually issued about two weeks into the month following the reporting period.

For instance, the CPI for January would generally be released in mid-February. The BLS calendar provides exact dates for CPI release and other economic reports, which can be consulted for specific release dates. It's important to note that even though the report is monthly, the BLS may also provide annual averages and some more detailed reports quarterly or yearly.

The Producer Price Index is the average change over time in the selling prices received by domestic producers for their output. Unlike the CPI, which focuses on prices from the consumer's perspective, the PPI tracks changes from the seller's viewpoint.

PPI reflects price changes from the perspective of industries and producers. It measures prices for all goods, which include intermediate goods used for further processing and not just final consumer goods. The PPI can be an early indicator of inflation since it reflects price changes that eventually might be passed on to the consumer. Taxes reflected in PPI fall on the producer. 

Lastly, the Personal Consumption Expenditures Price Index measures the changes in the prices of goods and services consumed by individuals in the United States, regardless of who makes the payment (consumer, insurance, government).

PCE includes all goods and services individuals consume, not just out-of-pocket consumer expenditures like the CPI. Its weights are based on current consumption patterns and are updated more frequently, making it more responsive to changes in consumer behavior.

The PCE Price Index uses data primarily from businesses and government reports, contrasting with CPI's use of household surveys. It covers a broader range of expenditures, including those by nonprofits on behalf of households, which the CPI does not.

Comparative Analysis

The selection of which index to use often comes down to the specific needs of the analysis. For instance, the CPI is most commonly used for cost-of-living adjustments and wage negotiations due to its reflection of consumer expenses.

On the other hand, the PPI, because it accounts for prices at earlier stages of production, can serve as a leading indicator of forthcoming inflationary pressure and is helpful for business planning and investment analysis. It's worth noting that while the PPI can indicate potential future changes to consumer prices, it doesn't always translate directly due to factors such as profit margins and competitive dynamics affecting the final prices consumers pay.

Meanwhile, the PCE is the preferred measure for the Federal Reserve when gauging inflation for monetary policy decisions. The Fed favors the PCE because it provides a broader understanding of the spending habits of individuals and is considered by many economists to more accurately reflect the increasing diversification of consumer preferences and the dynamic marketplace for consumer goods and services. The PCE is also seen as better adjusting for changes in consumer expenditure patterns and introducing new goods and services.

How Do the PCE and CPI Differ When It Comes to Measuring Housing Costs?

The Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) Price Index and the Consumer Price Index (CPI) measure the average price changes consumers pay over time. Still, they approach housing costs in distinct ways.

The CPI dedicates a significant portion of its basket to shelter, a major component. Housing in the CPI comprises two main parts: rent of Primary residence and owner's equivalent rent of residences (OER). : This measures the actual rents paid by renters.

For homeowners, the CPI uses a concept called owners' equivalent rent, which estimates the monthly rent a homeowner's property would rent. The data for this is collected by surveying homeowners to estimate how much they would charge for rent.

The CPI's measure of housing inflation doesn't directly account for actual mortgage payments or home purchase prices because these are viewed as investments with a capital consumption element rather than outright consumption.

In contrast, the PCE Price Index measures housing-related expenditures that are part of Personal Consumption Expenditures. It also uses rental data, but the underlying methodology and weights differ. 

Like CPI's OER, the PCE includes an imputed rental value for housing.

The PCE emphasizes actual housing services consumed by households, not partly on the investments in housing by homeowners. The PCE captures more housing-related services consumed by households, including those provided by nonprofit institutions serving households, which the CPI does not include.

The PCE uses a chain-type index formula that allows expenditure weights to change more frequently than the CPI's fixed weights, providing a potentially closer representation of current consumer spending.

The CPI's fixed weight structure may not react as quickly to changes in consumer behavior as PCE's chain weighting. The OER in the CPI is a significant portion of the index and considerably influences its overall movement. In contrast, the PCE's broader and more flexible basket means housing costs, while necessary, may not affect the overall index to the same extent. PCE tends to be lower than the CPI, partly due to methodological differences in measuring housing and other costs.

What is the Fed's Favored Gauge of Inflation?

The Federal Reserve's favored inflation gauge is the Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) Price Index, specifically the core PCE Price Index, which excludes food and energy prices due to their volatility. The Federal Reserve prefers the PCE Price Index for several reasons.

The PCE captures a wide array of expenditures and adjusts for changes in consumer behavior more quickly and accurately than the CPI because it uses a chain-type index that allows its expenditure weights to be updated more frequently.

PCE Price Index weights are based on a broader data set, including business surveys and the Census Bureau's annual survey information, which may provide a more encompassing view of actual national spending patterns.

The core PCE Price Index aligns closely with the Federal Reserve's mandate to stabilize prices in the long term. Based on the PCE, the Fed has an inflation target officially set at 2 percent over the long run.

The PCE allows for the substitution effect, where consumers switch from more expensive items to cheaper substitutes when prices change. This behavior is not fully reflected in the CPI, which uses a fixed basket of goods. Due to these characteristics, the PCE is often considered a more accurate measure of the average changes in prices of consumer goods and services and is thus regarded as a better indicator of inflation for economic policymaking. It helps inform the Federal Reserve's decisions on monetary policy, including interest rate changes and other measures to control inflation and maintain employment levels.


In conclusion, CPI, PPI, and PCE are distinct yet complementary instruments used to measure price dynamics in an economy. While CPI highlights the inflation experience of consumers through direct out-of-pocket spending, PPI offers insight into inflation from the sellers' standpoint, reflecting input costs that may impact future consumer prices. The PCE adds further sophistication with its comprehensive scope, capturing total consumption, whether paid directly by consumers or indirectly via third parties. Policymakers, businesses, and consumers use these indices to make informed decisions, whether for setting economic policy, negotiating wages, or planning investments. Together, these indices provide a nuanced view of inflation in the economy, each from its unique vantage point, yet all contributing to the holistic assessment of economic health and the setting of monetary policy.


Disclaimer : Above mentioned article is a Consumer connect initiative, This article is a paid publication and does not have journalistic/editorial involvement of IDPL, and IDPL claims no responsibility whatsoever.


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