Energy drives US consumer prices to 9-month high in October

Thursday, November 15, 2018

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Washington, United States (AFP) — US consumer inflation got a bump in October, as prices for gasoline and electricity shot up, rising along with the cost of shelter and medical care, the government reported Wednesday.

The increase in overall consumer prices was the largest in nine months but one closely-watched measure suggested underlying price pressures remained tame.

Costs for used cars and trucks also jumped last month, reversing declines in September, but new auto prices fell for the second month in a row, according to the Labour Department report.

The Consumer Price Index rose 0.3 per cent in October, matching analyst expectations and posting the biggest gain since January.

The gasoline index jumped three per cent compared to September and prices for electricity gained 1.7 per cent, offsetting falling prices for food and natural gas services.

Compared to October of last year, the index rose 2.5 per cent, up from the 2.3 per cent annual gain recorded in September.

But when erratic food and fuel prices are stripped out, the “core” CPI rose by a slower 0.2 per cent over September, also matching analyst expectations.

And over the last 12 months, the core index slowed to 2.1 per cent, down a tenth from September's reading.

This was despite a record 4.9 per cent annual gain in the cost of appliances, spurred higher by a 9.9 per cent increase in the cost of washing machines, which are subject to President Donald Trump's steep import duties.

Calming inflation fears

The slower year-on-year gain in the core CPI could calm Wall Street fears that the Federal Reserve will be more aggressive about raising interest rates.

With unemployment near a 50-year low and job creation continuing unabated, the Fed has projected four more rate increases before the end of 2019.

Prices for used cars and trucks rose 2.6 per cent and the cost of shelter also grew, offsetting decreases for clothing and new cars.

Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics said the data remained “calm, with no real evidence of broad-based pressures in either direction”.

And Chris Low of FTN Financial said the data defy the more pessimistic forecasts, including from the former chairman of the Federal Reserve.

“We keep hearing inflation is upon us, the latest in this Alan Greenspan interview, in which he claims, 'we are moving into the very early stages of inflation acceleration.' And yet, the actual inflation news keeps surprising to the downside,” Low said.

In a separate report on Wednesday, the Labour Department also said worker pay failed to keep pace with inflation in October, rising by a tenth of a percentage point less than CPI — resulting in a net loss employee earnings of 0.1 per cent for the month.

Wall Street initially rallied on the CPI news but soon lost momentum and closed lower on a host of other worries, including downgrades of tech giant Apple and a changing regulatory environment for banks.

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