IS INFLATION ON THE WAY BACK? It is, if you give credence to the leading inflation index compiled by the Center for Internation Business Cycle Research at Columbia University. The index made its sharpest jump in two years in January, rising 8.1 percent.

Leading the list of components was a big increase in the growth rate of The Journal of Commerce industrial materials index, which soared to 11.9 percent in January from 6.6 percent the month before. The growth of total debt also was up, rising to 9.4 percent in January compared with 9 percent the month before. Consumer and business debt growth increased, but the growth of federal debt declined.The percentage of people of working age increased marginally to 61.6 percent in February, an all-time high, from 61.4 percent the month before and 61.3 percent in December. The growth of import prices slowed somewhat between November and December, while the Dun & Bradstreet survey of business selling prices remained relatively unchanged in the final half of last year.

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