If you’re in the market for a used car, be prepared for some sticker shock. Prices are projected to have skyrocketed again in May, and that boom is probably going to be a primary driver of increased inflation.
A note by a group of UBS researchers, led by Alan Detmeister, forecast a 10.8% price increase. That’s even higher than April’s record-breaking surge of 10%.
Those pre-owned cars are adding significant mileage to inflation in the US. UBS projects that core Consumer Price Index (CPI) will have another “massive” rise in May; simply put, that means things got even more expensive. That follows a 13-year high in April. In both April and May, the increase is “heavily driven” by used car prices, according to UBS.
“With pressures on the used car market, along with returning demand for travel, we expect further increases in these categories in the coming months,” the UBS researchers write. They also expect “solid” price increases for new cars and apparel.
Another shortage could be holding up economic recovery
Last week brought the May jobs report, which tracked payroll gains for the month. It showed signs of labor-market acceleration, as Insider’s Ben Winck reported, with the unemployment rate dropping. However, the number of payrolls added came in below expectations.
A separate UBS note from researchers led by Andrew Dubinsky said jobs are rebounding slower than expected because of shortages – “temporary labor supply bottlenecks implied by strong wage gains are slowing growth.” For instance, the youngest workers, who are 16 to 24, saw declines, which UBS attributes to them potentially returning for in-person schooling.
So something else is getting more expensive: The amount that workers get paid. Employers are forking over more money to try and get workers to join their workforce.
As the UBS researchers write, “Annualized leisure wage growth of around 20% in the past three months suggest the recovery is being held back by labor supply.” That wage growth signals that labor-market-supply issues will be temporary, UBS said.
But it’s not just a matter of wages keeping people out of the workforce. Some unemployed workers are rethinking work and what they want out of it, while others struggle with a labor mismatch – the jobs that are open don’t necessarily fit with their skills, or previous experience. Despite all of that, it doesn’t appear that increased unemployment benefits kept workers from returning in May. In 25 GOP-led states, governors have prematurely announced an end to federal benefits to get workers back, but, as Insider’s Ayelet Sheffey reported, they returned regardless.
And, of course, there’s still an ongoing pandemic. UBS, which is “optimistic” about labor force participation in the coming months, notes COVID fears may subside. That’s one factor that may have been keeping older workers from returning.
It’s no secret that the used car market is absolutely bonkers lately, but demand has gotten so strong and supply so tight that one dealer says he’s now buying cars he previously would never have considered.
“We’ve been seeing things clear at 103%, 110% to MMR (Manheim Market Report)- cars that we bring in we would never sell that are damaged, like frame damage or need massive engine rebuild,” said Toby Russell, co-CEO at online used vehicle marketplace Shift.com, in an interview with Forbes.
“Normally we would lose a little money on that, but we’re making money on these because auction pricing is so intense and high. It’s just a total dislocation in the market caused by a surge in demand and lack of supply coming from new cars,” he said.
Russell told Forbes that Shift now pays 25% more for vehicles than it did a the start of the year.
“That’s like crazy,” he said. “Usually used cars will depreciate 1% per week but the car sitting in your driveway is likely to be worth 25-30% more than it was in January.”
At the start of May, used-vehicle prices reached an all-time high, topping more than $22,500, according to a Cox Automotive analysis of vAuto Available Inventory data.
“Given the strong demand from consumers, and the tight supply situation, it seems likely that used-vehicle prices, already at all-time highs, will continue to rise,” said Charlie Chesbrough, Cox Automotive senior economist. “At some point, prices will become too high, and demand will recede. But we are not there yet.”
The supply of used vehicles on dealers’ lots is less than half of what it was this time last year (fewer people were buying cars then), and it’s also well below the same month in 2019.
As sales taper off from their frenetic pace earlier in the spring, Chesbrough says there’s a simple reason for the slowdown: “Folks can’t buy what isn’t there.”
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Carvana is an online-only marketplace of used vehicles that aims to make the car-buying process less stressful.
The website allows shoppers to complete the entire buying process on a computer or phone.
Here’s how to use Carvana, from applying for financing to finalizing a purchase and getting a car delivered.
Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky
Carvana’s online marketplace of preowned vehicles gives shoppers access to thousands of used cars across the country. Although buying a car on the site isn’t too dissimilar from how a used car lot functions, it’s far less stressful than dealing directly with a salesperson.
If you’ve never bought a car online before, the process may seem more complex than it actually is. To help, we’ve laid out a step-by-step walkthrough of how to use Carvana, from browsing and making a purchase, to applying for in-house financing and setting up delivery.
An ongoing computer-chip shortage has affected cars, iPads, and dog-washing technology alike. Chipmakers like Intel had already seen production issues pre-pandemic, but as with many industries, COVID-19 brought a variety of new supply-chain issues. The chip shortage is a problem for consumers wanting basically anything with a computerized component, which is much of the economy. Take cars as an example.
The semiconductor shortage has hit automakers the hardest. In January, the consulting firm Alix Partners estimated the automotive industry would lose $61 billion in revenue from the shortage this year. As Insider’s Katie Canales reported, demand for chips has gone up as consumers scrambled to buy cars and other technologies that use them.
But as more cars went into production, chip competition went up. Since then, many carmakers have been forced to shut down plants and prioritize which models they produce, while car prices at dealerships have continued to go up.
Buyers are still looking for vehicles, creating a competitive used-car market. As USA Today reported, used-car prices are on the rise as the aforementioned chip shortages affect new-car production, and buyers have turned to older ones instead, while Axios reported the average price of a used car has hit $17,609.
A UBS note estimated that in April, used cars saw their largest monthly price increase in 68 years of tracking, with prices rising between 8.2% and 9.3%.
If you’re looking to rent, you might also be out of luck: Insider’s Brittany Chang reported on the “perfect storm” hitting rental cars right now, with prices surging and demand increasing. Americans are itching to go on vacation this summer, as more people are vaccinated and some restrictions loosen. That’s leading to far more demand — but rental-car companies had sold off parts of their fleets early into the pandemic, leaving fewer cars to go around.
It’s not all bad news for used-car lovers, though: As USA Today reports, the trade-in market is hot, too, meaning your old car could be worth more right now.
Gas prices have skyrocketed in recent months, jumping 22.5% in March from the previous year, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index. Much of the surge in gas prices started with the extreme Texas freeze, which halted a fifth of the country’s oil-refining capacity in its tracks for weeks at a time.
Plastics and palm oil
The devastating winter storms in Texas also left their mark on the plastics industry. As Insider’s Natasha Dailey reported, the state is a key plastics exporter — and the storms made many plants, which are difficult to reactivate, press pause.
According to the Financial Times, rising plastic prices have led to an increase in packaging costs. Citing data from Mintec, the Financial Times reported that those costs have increased by nearly 40% from the start of 2020, marking “historic highs.”
Palm oil, which is in a majority of those packaged products, also saw its prices climb, according to the Financial Times. That’s due to yet another labor shortage; the industry had already been contending with finding more sustainable production methods.
In September, Insider’s Rachel Premack reported that pay for truck drivers was on the rise, coming in at “record-smashing levels.” But the pay hike — and increased demand — comes after an exodus of drivers in 2019; Premack reported at the time on what some called a “trucking bloodbath,” as trucking companies saw profits fall, with some even going bankrupt.
Now demand is surging, according to The Journal, and if everything continues as is, that gap could deepen.
Homes and vacation houses
The US was facing a shortage of 3.8 million homes as of April, according to Freddie Mac. Home builders have been struggling to keep up with demand as remote work fuels interest in spacious housing, with house prices rising at their fastest pace in 15 years, The Wall Street Journal reported. Lumber prices are also driving the cost of new homes even higher.
Even vacation-home rentals are at an all-time high. A house in the Hamptons rented for $2 million this summer, and 85% of vacation rentals in popular destinations like Cape Cod, the Outer Banks, and the Jersey Shore are booked through August, according to the rental site VRBO.
If you’re wondering why the houses around you are getting more expensive, look to their component parts. No, seriously: Lumber prices have soared, and, as Insider’s Ayelet Sheffey and Libertina Brandt reported, builders are even increasing house prices in an attempt to offset demand.
It’s due to another pandemic disruption, as lumber mills were forced to temporarily close for safety concerns. When they reopened, they couldn’t keep up with a scorching-hot housing market, goosed by a work-from-home economy, record low mortgage rates, and the need for personal space during the pandemic.
According to an April analysis from the National Association of Home Builders, soaring lumber prices added $36,000 to the cost of a new home. Lumber prices “remain stubbornly high,” according to the report, due to mills shutting down, unexpected demand from big-box retail and DIY-ers, and tariffs imposed on Canadian lumber.
Household products like toilet paper and tampons
Many household goods including toilet paper, diapers, and tampons are also facing supply problems.
One of the biggest producers of the pulp used to create toilet paper told Bloomberg that port delays and high shipping costs are causing companies to push delivery dates back months.
The work-from-home lifestyle helped the furniture industry boom but to such an extent that customers are seeing delivery dates that are months out.
In February, La-Z-Boy executives said customers could expect delivery dates that are five to nine months out from their order dates. Other furniture companies like Kasala, a Seattle-based chain, said they don’t expect to get furniture parts until at least December.
The furniture shortage has been exacerbated by a spike in homeownership, as the number of available and unsold homes sits at record lows. In other words, a lot of new homeowners are waiting a long time for their new living-room sets.
Bacon and hot dogs will likely be in short supply this summer.
The pig shortage dates back to the onset of COVID-19 and outbreaks in at least 167 meat-processing plants forcing almost 40 plants to close as of June 2020. As vaccination rates pick up and people prepare for summer vacations and cookouts, analysts told Insider’s Natasha Dailey demand will outstrip supply.
With pork companies still struggling to overcome lower production rates in 2020, the matter only intensified when high instances of disease hit the hog population this past winter.
Some companies are already seeing the impact on their shelves. In March, Costco said its supplies of cheese, seafood, and olive oil were running low.
General Mills said it has been forced to raise prices due to the delays increased shipping costs. Coca-Cola also raised prices to combat the supply-chain crunch. Neither company specified which products would be affected.
Coffee has also been hit by delays, Bloomberg reported in March. Peet’s and JM Smucker, the brands behind Folgers and Dunkin’ coffee, have said they’re facing rising costs. Reuters reported that in February, port delays pushed coffee prices to their highest point in more than a year.
This summer pool owners will see the worst chlorine shortage in US history, according to CNBC.
Supplies of the chemical have been strained since a fire at the chlorine manufacturer BioLab in Louisiana in September. The price for chlorine used in pools has nearly doubled this past year and is expected to rise even more to meet demand this summer.
Corn is a key crop for many products, including fuel and different foods. As supply concerns loom, corn prices are popping off, according to Axios.
There’s a few reasons that demand is so high: After an outbreak of swine fever in China, pig herds were “decimated,” according to Axios, leading to huge corn demand in China. That spike in demand is coupled with corn crops in Brazil and Argentina experiencing both bad weather and pandemic-related labor shortages.
Now corn prices are on a record-setting clip, rising by 16% in April alone.
And, as Fortune reported, there could be a domestic supply issue too. Droughts and a rough winter are both concerning — and if American crops can’t fill in the gaps, prices could rise even more.
Finally, a commodity unlike all the others is in surprisingly short supply: workers.
Major labor shortages are hitting businesses across America. As Insider’s Kate Taylor reported, chains like Dunkin’ and Starbucks are struggling to find workers — leading to reduced hours and hesitance on opening indoor dining back up.
There’s a few possible reasons that unemployed workers are opting not to return, according to Insider’s Ayelet Sheffey. They include workers making more on unemployment benefits than in their prior work as well as continued concerns over COVID-19 and the need to provide childcare at home.
The latest commodity seeing a price squeeze amidst shortages and high demand is used cars.
A note from UBS researchers led by Alan Detmeister found that not only did used-car prices climb in April, but the monthly price increase could be the largest in 68 years of tracking. It looks like prices may have risen by 8.2% to 9.3%.
Used cars have been in high demand due to a few of the factors driving the shortages all over the American economy. The economy is reopening, people are ready to spend money (perhaps from new stimulus checks), and they want cars – especially as more suburban areas boom with wealthy transplants. But new cars are being hit by a computer chip shortage that’s hitting the automotive industry hard.
As Insider’s Grace Kay reported, semiconductor shortages could cost automakers billions, and has already led to lower production rates for new cars. Even Elon Musk has said that Tesla’s suffered from supply chain and semiconductor woes. Cue a used-car boom, with the market heating up and trade-ins fetching higher prices.
According to UBS, prices on used cars may only climb in the coming months, due to a lag in wholesale to retail pricing. New car prices are also likely to pick up, increasing by 1%.
Why there are so many shortages, and which ones may pick up next
It may seem that everywhere you look, a new product is in a shortage. Chicken, diapers, corn, gas, furniture: The list of shortages goes on, and will likely only grow amid economic reopening. That’s due to some of the same factors impacting used and new cars. Supply-chain issues have persisted throughout the pandemic, and factories shuttered for safety reasons need to crank back to life as demand steepens.
The climate crisis also has a role, with several domestic products in the US – such as plastic and gas – impacted by factors including the devastating winter storms in Texas. Droughts are impacting the worldwide corn supply amidst high demand; Insider’s Will Daniel reports that corn prices have jumped 142% in the past year.
UBS projects 12-month headline Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation rising to 4.3% from 2.6%, “an enormous surge over just the past few months.” Economists’ median estimate for April CPI is 3.6%, per Bloomberg.
UBS projects hotels and airfares will be next to see substantial price increases. Axios reported – in an article aptly titled “Our crazy, booked-up summer” – that summer travel in the US is about to boom, with a particular emphasis on domestic travel.
A recent report from the US Travel Association found 72% of Americans are planning a summer vacation in 2021; that’s compared to 37% last year. That probably won’t help the already intense rental car shortage.