A Reconciliation between the Consumer Price Index and the Personal Consumption Expenditures Price Index (PDF)

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) prepares the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U), and the Bureau of Economic Analysis prepares the Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) chain-type price index. Both indexes measure the prices paid by consumers for goods and services. Because the two indexes are based on different underlying concepts, they are constructed differently, and tend to behave differently over time. From the first quarter of 2002 through the second quarter of 2007, the CPI-U increased 0.4 percentage point per year faster than the PCE price index. This paper details and quantifies the differences in growth rates between the CPI-U and the PCE price index; it provides a quarterly reconciliation of growth rates for the 2002:Q1-2007:Q2 time period.

There are several factors that explain the differences in growth rates between the CPI and the PCE price index. First, the indexes are based on difference index-number formulas. The CPI-U is based on a Laspeyres index; the PCE price index is based on a Fisher-Ideal index. Second, the relative weights assigned to the detailed item prices in each index are different because they are based on different data sources. The weights used in the CPIU are based on a household survey, while the weights used in the PCE price index are based on business surveys. Third, there are scope differences between the two indexes—that is, there are items in the CPI-U that are out-of-scope of the PCE price index, and there are items in the PCE price index that are out-of-scope of the CPI-U. And finally, there are differences in the seasonal-adjustment routines and in the detailed price indexes used to construct the two indexes.

Over the 2002:Q1-2007:Q2 time period, this analysis finds that almost half of the 0.4 percentage point difference in growth rates between the CPI-U and the PCE price index was explained by differences in index-number formulas. After adjusting for formula differences, differences in relative weights—primarily “rent of shelter”—more than accounted for the remaining difference in growth rates. Net scope differences, in contrast, partly offset the effect of relative weight differences.

Clinton P. McCully, Brian C. Moyer, and Kenneth J. Stewart