ALBANY -- Note to True Love: When you go shopping for that 12 days' worth of presents this year, you might want to stick some extra cash in your wallet.
The economy's sluggish and inflation (officially, at least) is near nil, but if you wanted to give that special someone gifts based on the popular Christmas carol "The Twelve Days of Christmas," it would cost you 9.2 percent more than in 2009.
Of course, the number of people who are actually in the market for partridges in pear trees, leaping lords and piping pipers is miniscule at best, but PNC Wealth Management in Pittsburgh has been keeping what it calls the PNC Christmas Price Index for 27 years. It started out as a way to engage the bank's clients with a bit of holiday whimsy but developed into a holiday tradition.
The index calculates the total cost of the gifts mentioned in the song. If True Love were to give each of the gifts once this year, it would cost him $1,974 more than in 2009, with the total price tag coming in at $23,439. That 9.2 percent hike is the second-highest jump ever in the PNC CPI and largest percentage increase since 2003, when the index jumped 16 percent. Last year, the index rose only 1.8 percent from 2008.
If he followed the song exactly, the jump would be even bigger. As part of its annual tradition, PNC Wealth Management also tabulates the "True Cost of Christmas," which is the total cost of items gifted by a True Love who repeats all of the song's verses. This holiday season, a very generous True Love would have to fork over $96,824 for all 364 gifts -- a 10.8 percent increase compared to 2009.
"This year's jump in the PNC CPI can be attributed to rising gold commodity prices, represented by the five gold rings, which went up by 30 percent, in addition to higher costs for wages and benefits impacting some entertainers," James Dunigan, managing executive of investments for PNC Wealth Management, said.
Among the 12 gifts in the PNC CPI, only four items (the pear tree, four calling birds, six geese a-laying and the eight maids-a-milking) were the same price as last year.
The 11 pipers piping ($2,356) and 12 drummers drumming ($2,552) saw modest increases, both up 3.1 percent; however, these higher costs give greater weight to the index. Lords-a-leaping jumped 8 percent to $4,766, but the biggest dollar increase this year was for the nine ladies dancing, up $820, a 15 percent boost. None of these performers received a wage increase last year and were playing catch-up in 2010.
After modest increases last year, prices for the birds flew higher in this year's index, in part due to the costs of feed as well as the availability and demand for certain feathered friends that amplified several prices. The two turtle doves increased 78.6 percent to $100, and the three french hens surged 233 percent to $150.
The partridge in a pear tree is up 1.3 percent to $161. But the partridge alone was up 20 percent to $12, and the pear tree is identical to a year ago at $149.
The cost of the seven swans-a-swimming, which generally provide the biggest swings from year to year in the PNC CPI, rose this year by 6.7 percent to $5,600, following last year's surprising 6.5 percent drop. As the most volatile component in the index, the swans are removed to determine underlying inflation, or core PNC CPI, which pushed the rate up 10 percent this year.
The PNC CPI's surge is in marked contrast to the government's Consumer Price Index, which grew 1.1 percent.
"Typically we see more parallels between our index and the federal government's," Dunigan said. "This year, we hope, is an aberration. But let's keep in mind that we are talking about a small basket of goods and services here compared to the Consumer Price Index."