U.S core inflation unexpectedly cools

A gauge of underlying U.S. inflation unexpectedly cooled in August as apparel prices fell by the most in about seven decades and medical-care costs declined, offering Americans a respite from accelerating price gains.

Excluding volatile food and energy costs, the core consumer price index rose 2.2 percent in August from a year earlier, compared with the 2.4 percent median estimate of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News, a Labor Department report showed Thursday. The broader CPI slowed to a 2.7 percent annual gain from 2.9 percent.

The cooling of price gains, along with what last week’s jobs report showed was the fastest wage increase since 2009, meant inflation-adjusted hourly pay rose 0.2 percent from a year earlier, following a 0.1 percent decline in August.

The moderation in the core gauge partly reflects a 1.6 percent monthly drop in apparel prices, a component that tends to be volatile. Even so, the broader slowdown follows data showing a surprise drop in producer prices and suggests the path of inflation could be softer than expected. At the same time, freight prices and rising wages, along with tariffs and counter- levies, may keep putting upward pressure on inflation.

Federal Reserve policy makers are widely expected to raise interest rates later this month, though a more persistent slowdown in inflation could affect their outlook for future increases.

The core CPI rose 0.1 percent from the prior month, compared with the median estimate of economists for a 0.2 percent gain, and followed an annual increase of 2.4 percent in July. The broader CPI was up 0.2 percent, less than forecasts for a 0.3 percent increase. It was expected to rise 2.8 percent from a year earlier.

Besides apparel, the index for medical care fell 0.2 percent for a second month. The shelter category, which accounts for about one-third of the CPI, showed a 0.3 percent gain, in line with recent increases. Prices of new automobiles were unchanged, the first month without a gain since April, while used cars and trucks rose 0.4 percent.

Airfares rose 2.4 percent following a 2.7 percent advance in July, amid higher fuel prices, one of the biggest costs for airlines.

The Fed’s preferred gauge of inflation — a separate consumption-based figure from the Commerce Department — came in above the central bank’s 2 percent goal in July, and the figure tends to run slightly below the Labor Department’s CPI. August numbers are due on Sept. 28, after the Fed’s two-day meeting.

Seasonally adjusted gasoline prices increased 3 percent in August from the prior month, the most since April, and were up 20.3 percent over the past 12 months.

Bloomberg

U.S Producer Prices Rise in January

U.S. producer prices accelerated in January, boosted by strong gains in the cost of gasoline and healthcare, offering more evidence that inflation pressures were building up.

The report came on the heels of data on Wednesday showing a broad increase in consumer prices in January. The Labor Department said on Thursday its producer price index for final demand rose 0.4 percent last month after being unchanged in December.

In the 12 months through January, the PPI rose 2.7 percent after advancing 2.6 percent in December. A key gauge of underlying producer price pressures that excludes food, energy and trade services jumped 0.4 percent last month. The so-called core PPI edged up 0.1 percent in December.

It rose 2.5 percent in the 12 months through January, the largest increase since August 2014. The core PPI increased 2.3 percent in the 12 months through December.

The PPI report bolsters expectations that inflation will gain steam this year even though its correlation with consumer prices has weakened.

Economists believe that a tightening labor market, weak dollar and fiscal stimulus in the form of a $1.5 trillion tax cut package and increased government spending will lift inflation toward the Federal Reserve’s 2 percent target this year.

The U.S. central bank’s preferred inflation measure, the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index excluding food and energy, has undershot its target since May 2012.

U.S. financial markets were little moved by the data.

The Fed has forecast three interest rate increases this year, with the first hike expected in March. Most economists are, however, forecasting four rate increases this year because of rising inflation pressures.

FOOD PRICES FALL

Last month, the cost of hospital outpatient care surged 1.0 percent, the largest increase since August 2014, after gaining 0.1 percent in December.

Hospital inpatient care rose 0.3 percent. Overall, the cost of healthcare services shot up 0.7 percent in January. Those costs feed into the core PCE price index.

Wholesale goods prices increased 0.7 percent last month, after nudging up 0.1 percent in December. Gasoline prices, which rose 7.1 percent, accounted for nearly half of the increase in the cost of goods last month.

Wholesale food prices fell for a second straight month, with prices for prepared poultry posting their biggest drop in 14 years and chicken eggs declining by the most since December 2015. Core goods prices rose 0.2 percent for the second consecutive month.

Reuters

U.S. CPI Rises More Than Forecast on Apparel Costs

U.S. consumer prices rose by more than projected in January as apparel costs jumped the most in nearly three decades, adding to signs of an inflation pickup that have roiled financial markets this month.

The consumer price index rose 0.5 percent from the previous month, above the median estimate of economists for a 0.3 percent increase, a Labor Department report showed Wednesday. Excluding volatile food and energy costs, the so-called core gauge increased 0.3 percent, also above forecasts for 0.2 percent. It was up 1.8 percent from a year earlier, higher than the 1.7 percent estimate.

The figures may renew investor concerns that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates at a faster pace than anticipated, after wage figures earlier this month sent Treasury yields spiking and started a rout in equities that pushed them into the first correction in two years. The 1.7 percent monthly gain in apparel prices, which account for about 3 percent of the CPI, was the biggest since 1990.

Other items contributing to the gain in CPI included rents and owners’ equivalent rent, which both rose 0.3 percent from December; medical care, up 0.4 percent; and motor vehicle insurance, which advanced 1.3 percent, the most since 2001.

The increase in the core CPI brought the three-month annualized gain to 2.9 percent, the fastest since 2011, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Retail Sales

A separate report showed U.S. retail sales unexpectedly fell in January and December figures were revised downward, suggesting consumer spending is on a slower track in the first quarter.

Including all items, the main CPI gauge rose 2.1 percent from a year earlier, the same pace as in December and exceeding forecasts for a 1.9 percent increase.

The report follows the Labor Department’s annual revisions to CPI last week that took the December monthly increase in the core index down to 0.2 percent, from an initially reported 0.3 percent. The December gain in the main index was revised upward to 0.2 percent from 0.1 percent.

Policy makers look at the core index to better gauge underlying inflation because food and energy prices tend to be volatile. The latest report showed energy prices rose 3 percent from the previous month and food costs advanced 0.2 percent.

The two main U.S. stock indexes endured wild swings last week on concerns that inflation would spur higher interest rates more quickly, boosting borrowing costs for companies. Even so, equities have recovered some ground, advancing for three trading sessions in a row through Tuesday.

Fed Outlook

While economists and investors have seen a Fed interest-rate hike in March as a near-certainty, the details of the latest CPI report could play a role in the timing and number of rate increases throughout 2018.

The central bank’s preferred gauge of inflation — a separate figure based on consumer purchases and issued by the Commerce Department — has mostly missed its 2 percent goal in the past five years. The measure excluding food and energy is also below the Fed’s target. January data are due for release on March 1.

Fed policy makers will also have February CPI data in hand before they next meet March 20-21 in Jerome Powell’s first gathering as chairman. Powell, speaking Tuesday at his ceremonial swearing-in, suggested that the central bank would push ahead with gradual interest-rate increases, and that officials “remain alert to any developing risks to financial stability.”

Retail sales fell 0.3 percent in January from the previous month, the most since February 2017, according to the Commerce Department, compared with the median estimate of economists for a 0.2 percent increase. December’s figures were revised to show little change, after an initially reported gain of 0.4 percent.

Other Details

  • Wireless-phone service prices fell 0.2 percent
  • Used-vehicle prices posted a 0.4 percent increase last month; the index for new vehicle costs fell 0.1 percent
  • The price of airfares fell 0.6 percent, the third straight drop
  • Cost of lodging away from home fell 2 percent
  • Average hourly earnings, adjusted for inflation, rose 0.8 percent from a year earlier, according to separate report Wednesday from Labor Department
  • The CPI is the broadest of three price gauges from the Labor Department because it includes all goods and services; about 60 percent of the index covers the prices that consumers pay for services ranging from medical visits to airline fares, movie tickets and rents

    Bloomberg