Nine Ladies Dancing drive up '12 Days of Christmas' inflation index

dranii@newsobserver.comDecember 3, 2013 

Wolfpack, N.C. State, NCSU, Eagles, Florida Gulf Coast, basketba

Children at the North Hills shopping complex in Raleigh pet a goose named Matilda. The cost of six geese a-laying held steady from 2012, according to PNC Wealth Management.

COREY LOWENSTEIN — clowenst@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

  • The price of a holiday song (prices rounded)

    $200

    1 partridge in a pear tree

    $125

    2 turtle doves

    $165

    3 french hens

    $600

    4 calling birds

    $750

    5 golden rings

    $210

    6 geese-a-laying

    $7,000

    7 swans-a-swimming

    $58

    8 maids-a-milking

    $7,553

    9 ladies dancing

    $5,243

    10 lords-a-leaping

    $2,635

    11 pipers piping

    $2,855

    12 drummers drumming

    Source: PNC

It turns out that tracking the cost of the dozen unconventional gifts featured in the popular holiday song “The 12 Days of Christmas” is a surprisingly accurate gauge of inflation over the long haul.

Over the short haul, not so much.

Each year since 1984, PNC Wealth Management has tallied the price of 12 drummers drumming, 11 pipers piping, etc., etc., as a tongue-in-cheek inflation index.

Since its inception, the year-over-year increase of the Christmas Price Index has averaged 2.9 percent – identical to the overwhelmingly broader Consumer Price Index.

“It’s volatile. It doesn’t always match,” said Larry Christ, a Raleigh-based senior investment adviser for PNC. “But it seems like it’s pretty much on track with the U.S. government’s CPI indicator.” PNC Wealth Management is part of Pittsburgh-based PNC Financial Services Group, as is PNC Bank.

This year, however, the accuracy of the Christmas Price Index was as shaky as Santa Claus after one too many eggnogs.

The PNC index jumped 7.7 percent this year, versus a mere 1 percent increase for the CPI.

Blame the nine ladies dancing, which cost $7,553 – up 20 percent from a year ago and the costliest item on the list. (PNC perennially obtains prices for the dancing ladies and the lords a-leaping from a Philadelphia dance company and the Pennsylvania Ballet.)

The cheapest item on the list: Eight maids-a-milking came in at a bargain $58, courtesy of the $7.25 federal minimum wage.

Possibly the biggest surprise: Five gold rings could be purchased for $750, unchanged from last year.

“That was kind of a surprise for us,” Christ said. “Gold rings stayed flat year-to-year even though gold prices dropped.” The rings were one of seven items on the list whose prices remained the same.

Add up all the gifts and this year’s grand total was $27,393.17.

Then there’s what PNC dubs the “True Cost of Christmas,” which accounts for the song’s repetitive impact. That is, the “true love” of the song actually repeats the sole gift bestowed the first day, a partridge in a pear tree, on each of the dozen days, as well as buying the 11 pipers piping for 11 days, and so on.

The true cost this year was $114,651.18 for all 364 gifts, up 6.9 percent from 2012.

Christ said PNC’s analysis had absolutely no impact on his Christmas list this year.

“I’d probably put my money in the (stock) market if I had a free $15,000 floating around,” he said.

Ranii: 919-829-4877

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