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Like the Terminator, inflation is poised for a comeback.

I'm talking about the silent killer of take-home pay and living standards that, after hitting a peak in 2011 on a rise in commodity prices and a whirlwind of growth created by Federal Reserve stimulus, has been moving lower ever since.

Now, as factories and service industries around the world rev up, as billions of dollars of cheap cash pour into the financial system, as officials in Beijing relax their iron grip on China's financial system and as high oil prices trickle down through the supply chain, things are about to change.

Inflation will throw a wrench into the works just as the middle-class was getting some relief.

The price lull

Image: Anthony Mirhaydari - MSN Money

Anthony Mirhaydari

While job growth has been steady lately (and much stronger than mediocre gross domestic product growth in the past nine months would suggest), it has been concentrated in low-wage, no-benefit, part-time positions. The only reason this hasn't pulled down consumer confidence is that inflation has been low and falling.

Just look at the sources of the drop in inflation. Medical care is benefiting from greater price transparency and the shopping around encouraged by higher deductibles and co-pays. That has pushed the medical-care inflation rate down to levels not seen since the early 1970s, as shown in the chart below.

We've also seen inflation ease dramatically for things like apparel, financial services and automobiles. How much? In 2011, the cost of financial services was rising at a 7% annual rate. Now it's clocking in around 2.5%. Vehicle prices were rising at a 3% rate then. Now they are actually falling.

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All of this has aided confidence by boosting inflation-adjusted take-home pay. Well actually, easing inflation has merely helped keep pay aloft amid all those low-paying jobs and the tax hikes we've seen this year. By offsetting those negatives, it has kept consumers humming along. If inflation were higher, real incomes would have dropped instead of just stalling, as shown in the chart below of real per-capita disposable income.

Other benefits of lower inflation include less bond market volatility (fixed-income investors had enough of a scare in the past few months as interest rates rose, thank you very much), a stronger dollar and more-potent GDP growth numbers.

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But, as I said, evidence suggests that this tail wind is about to become a head wind. And with that change comes a new potential worry as we move toward the end of the year.

Hopefully, it will be a largely benign rise in prices associated with a stronger economy. After all, inflation at its core is a lagging indicator of how the economy is performing relative to its full potential. Growth running too hot? You get higher prices. Growth lagging behind? You get falling prices.

The world is turning around

The data we've received in the past week suggest that the global economy is about to heat up again. And that should start feeding inflationary pressures back into the supply chain, starting with raw-materials suppliers, then component manufacturers, assemblers, distributors and retailers before end consumers finally feel it.

In Asia, China's manufacturing sector unexpectedly returned to growth last month as the Chinese State Council announced that it wouldn't allow growth in China to slow to an unreasonable level as it works to reorient the country away from fixed-asset investment and toward domestic consumption. Japan's economy enjoyed its fifth month of manufacturing-activity expansion in July as new orders continue to grow thanks to a cheaper yen -- which is boosting export competitiveness.

But the biggest turnaround is what is happening in the eurozone: The Composite Purchasing Managers Index (which covers both manufacturing and services) increased to its best level in two years, at 50.5. This return to month-over-month growth marks the first time since January (any reading over 50 indicates growth). Europe's manufacturing sector has been contracting since late 2011, throwing countries such as Spain into recession as budget austerity and financial turmoil took their toll on the currency union. But lower government borrowing costs, stabilization in the bond market and renewed vigor have turned things around.

Even Greece, economic basket case that it is, is on the mend. The Markit Greece Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index is rebounding, although it's still in contractionary territory. Employment and new orders are contracting at their slowest pace since January 2010.

In Great Britain, Capital Economics notes that the CIPS/Markit report on services activity shows "that momentum in the dominant part of the U.K. economy continues to build at a rapid rate." The index posted its seventh consecutive monthly rise, to 60.2, breaching the 60 level for the first time since December 2006. Pretty impressive. With the July Manufacturing PMI at a 28-month high and construction activity ramping up, the United Kingdom is looking at its best GDP growth in 14 years.

And in the United States, the ISM Non-Manufacturing Index swelled to 56.0, the best reading since February. New orders jumped seven points, to 57.7, the highest level since December.