Investors and policymakers have gone looking for inflation over the past decade and largely have come up empty.
It could, however, come barreling at them soon like an 18-wheeler.
Multiple signs of inflation in freight-related industries are at or near historical highs, in what could be an early sign that price pressures are building and ready to reverberate around the economy.
Freight marketplace DAT keeps track of supply and demand in the freight industry through a bulletin board that matches companies with loads to be delivered to the vehicles that will take the goods to the marketplace. The measures are in the spot market, where vendors that don't contract their deliveries find drivers for their products.
Recent readings show demand for vehicles skyrocketing, a sign that generally points to inflationary pressures building up in the supply chain.
"It's an indication that there's capacity pressure in the marketplace, that brokers are searching more and posting more in order to find a truck," said Peggy Dorf, market analyst at DAT. "This is an indicator that pressure is much higher than it was a year ago."
Metrics the firm uses to track demand for trucks are showing a sharp increase and outstripping the number of drivers available. Supply-demand dynamics, then, would indicate rising rates for trucks that could lead to pricing pressures on a broader level.
Loads on the spot market in general are up 100 percent from the same period a year ago. Another measure, the flatbed load-to-truck comparison, which tracks the amount of vendors looking for flatbeds and is generally the highest of all truck types, is up 142 percent.
Every other broad market trend line that DAT posts was up double digits on a year-over-year basis — including the all-important fuel costs, which are up 20 percent.
"Trucking in general is a leading indicator," Dorf said. "If the economy is also growing, it's one of those rising tides [that] lifts all boats. The pressure on the spot market doesn't seem to have let up."
The numbers by themselves, though, don't indicate that inflation is ready to strike soon. Indeed, the most recent readings, such as the consumer and producer price indexes, show inflation pressures rising though relatively benign.
But they do jibe with some other indicators showing inflation is rising beneath the surface.
Also, the New York Fed's Underlying Inflation Gauge, which goes beyond more popular data sets like the consumer price index, rose to 3.2 percent in April, its highest reading since July 2006. The Atlanta Fed's Sticky-Price CPI gauge, a measure of goods whose prices are less prone to fluctuation, was up 2.5 percent in April, its highest level since February 2017.