Inflation fears were "stoked," as the financial press likes to say, by Labor Department numbers Tuesday indicating that wholesale prices accelerated in June. The 1.8% jump -- nearly double what economists had predicted -- made it possible for financial pundits and players to let loose with another round of criticism of the Obama administration and the stimulus/bailout projects that it's set in motion to staunch the recession. As the federal government prints paper money to feed the stimulus, many worry about what that might mean if the economy were truly to rebound. Indeed, it's been the de rigueur bet among Wall Street pros since the inauguration: putting money on inflation hedges. There's TIPS (or Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities), which essentially gain in value as inflation gathers pace, and there's the ProShares UltraShort 20 ( TBT), an Exchange Traded Fund that, as its name indicates, is a way to short 20-year Treasury bills and thus put one's chips on rising yields -- and inflation. Others have been even more aggressive with their inflation-hedge trades: According to a recent New Yorker article, one investor actually called up the Swiss ink manufacturer that has the exclusive contract with the U.S mint. He wanted to see if he could buy the company. (It wasn't for sale.) Tuesday morning, the Producer Price Index, a gauge of wholesale inflation, showed that the cost of finished goods rose 1.8% in June, which comes on the heels of 0.2% and 0.3% gains in May and April, respectively.
Excluding volatile commodity prices, the core PPI advanced 0.5% in June, above economists' expectations of a 0.1% rise. Price increases sped up across the board. For intermediate goods -- the stuff that goes into the manufacturing of the final product -- prices rose 1.9% last month after gaining 0.3% in May. And for raw materials, prices jumped 4.6%; in May, they rose 3.6%. Parallel with Labor's data Tuesday was word from the Commerce Department that retail sales increased by 0.6% in June. But that was largely driven by spiking gas prices, and as investors digested all the economic digits, stocks were trading basically flat Tuesday after a big jump during the previous session.