Economist Lawrence Kudlow may feel something like the bored shepherd boy who falsely cried ``wolf.'' Last year about this time he was forecasting an onslaught of inflation by year-end 1984. It didn't happen. Again, the former chief economist of the Office of Management and Budget is crying ``inflation'' -- a 6 or even 7 percent annual rate by the end of this year.
The majority of economists, including top Treasury officials, are more sanguine on inflation. ``Rumors of reaccelerating inflation . . . appear exaggerated,'' says a report by Data Resources Inc., a Lexington, Mass., consulting firm. The consensus forecast runs around 4 percent for this year, about what it has been running for the last few months. Most economists expect the pressures from high unemployment and slack industrial capacity to continue restraining wage and price increase.
A minority of economists, however, particularly monetarists -- who believe the money supply is the prime force behind the economy -- are sounding the alarm again. Citibank economist Alan Murray, also a monetarist in inclination, talks of 5 to 5.5 percent inflation by year-end. ``It [the alarm] is for real this time,'' he says.
Today's release of the producer price index for April may raise some fresh concern for inflation. The index has moved up very little over the past six months and in fact declined slightly in February. A few economists have been predicting a substantial boost this time, an increase that would eventually have an effect on consumer prices. ``There was a pickup in energy prices,'' noted Karen DiEmma, whose firm, CM&M Group, has forecast a tripling of the 0.2 percent rise in March to 0.6 percent in April.
The key reason for inflation concern by the monetarist economists is the rapid growth of the nation's money supply. M-1 (checking accounts plus currency in circulation) has grown at a speedy 10.6 percent annual rate since last October.
Irwin L. Kellner, an economist with Manufacturers Hanover, warns that ``any further increase in the rate of growth of money could very well revive inflation and the expectation of inflation -- something the Fed [Federal Reserve System] has fought long and hard to damp down over the past five years.''