Cheaper gasoline restrains US consumer prices in Jan

US consumer prices were unchanged for a third straight month in January, leading to the smallest annual increase in inflation in more than 1-1/2 years, which could allow the Federal Reserve to hold interest rates steady for a while. The Labor Department said yesterday its Consumer Price Index last month was held down by cheaper gasoline, which offset increases in the cost of food and rents. In the 12 months through January, the CPI rose 1.6%, the smallest gain since June 2017. The CPI increased 1.9% on a year-on-year basis in December. Excluding the volatile food and energy components, the CPI gained 0.2%, rising by the same margin for a fifth straight month. In the 12 months through January, the so-called core CPI rose 2.2% for a third straight month.


Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the CPI edging up 0.1% in January and the core CPI rising 0.2%. The dollar rose against a basket of currencies after the data, while US stock index futures held gains.
Prices of US Treasuries were trading lower. Despite the increases in the core CPI, underlying inflation remains moderate. The Fed, which has a 2% inflation target, tracks a different measure, the core personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index, for monetary policy. The core PCE price index increased 1.9% on a year-on-year basis in November after rising 1.8% in October. It hit 2% in March 2018 for the first time since April 2012. PCE price data for December will be released on March 1. It was delayed by a five-week partial shutdown of the federal government that ended on January 25.



Shoppers

Shoppers are reflected in the window of a store at the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, California (file). US consumer prices were unchanged for a third straight month in January, leading to the smallest annual increase in inflation in more than 1-1/2 years, which could allow the Federal Reserve to hold interest rates steady for a while.




The Fed kept interest rates unchanged last month and removed from its December policy statement promises of “further gradual increases” in borrowing costs. The US central bank said it would be “patient” before making further rate hikes. With the January inflation report, the government started quality adjusting the CPI series related to telecommunications services such as land-line telephones, internet, cable and satellite television, to account for rapid technological change. Inflation is remaining moderate despite a tightening labour market, in part because of slowing economic growth in China and Europe, which is helping to lower oil prices. In January, gasoline prices fell 5.5% after dropping 5.8% in December. Food prices increased 0.2%, rising for a third straight month.


Food consumed at home edged up 0.1% last month. There were increases in the prices of poultry, eggs, fish and beef. But consumers paid less for fruits, vegetables, cereals and dairy products. Owners’ equivalent rent of primary residence, which is what a homeowner would pay to rent or receive from renting a home, increased 0.3% in January after gaining 0.2% in the prior month.

Sources and photo-credits: Gulf Times, Reuters