ALSO READWall Street higher as consumer and bank stocks gain; Facebook falls A small recovery in the labour force holds out a hope Benefits of fast-frequency economic data Blackstone bets big on Wall St information biz with Thomson Reuters deal Blackstone may buy majority stake in key Thomson Reuters unit for $17 bn
US consumer prices increased in January, with a gauge of underlying inflation posting its largest gain in 12 months, bolstering views that price pressures will accelerate this year.
Inflation is also likely to get a boost from a tightening labor market. Other data on Thursday showed the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits fell last week to the lowest level in just over 48 years.
A robust labor market and rising inflation could force the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates a bit more aggressively this year than currently anticipated to prevent the economy from overheating. The Fed has forecast three rate hikes in 2018. U.S. financial markets have priced in a rate increase this month.
The Commerce Department said consumer prices as measured by the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index rose 0.4 per cent. That was the biggest increase since September and followed a 0.1 per cent gain in December. In the 12 months through January, the PCE price index rose 1.7 per cent after a similar gain in December.
Excluding the volatile food and energy components, the PCE price index advanced 0.3 per cent in January - the largest gain since January 2017. The so-called core PCE price index rose 0.2 per cent in December. Unfavorable base effects kept the annual increase in the core PCE price index at 1.5 per cent in January.
The inflation gains were in line with economists' expectations. The core PCE index is the Fed's preferred inflation measure and has undershot the U.S. central bank's 2 per cent target since mid-2012.
The dollar rose after the data while U.S. Treasuries pared gains and stock index futures trimmed losses.
Inflation is expected to breach its target this year as a tightening labor market boosts wage growth. Faster economic growth, spurred by a $1.5 trillion tax cut package and increased government spending, is also seen stoking inflation.
Fed Chairman Jerome Powell on Tuesday offered an upbeat assessment of the economy, telling U.S. lawmakers "my personal outlook for the economy has strengthened since December." Powell also acknowledged that "fiscal policy is becoming more stimulative."
Those remarks prompted traders to raise their bets on four rate increases this year. Economists expect policymakers will revise up their interest rate projections at the March 20-21 meeting.
CONSUMER SPENDING SLOWS
Higher inflation cut into consumer spending growth in January. Consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, gained 0.2 per cent. That was the smallest increase since August and followed a 0.4 percent advance in December.
When adjusted for inflation, consumer spending fell 0.1 per cent, declining for the first time since January 2017. The so-called real consumer spending rose 0.2 per cent in December.
The drop in real consumer spending in January suggests consumption will slow from the fourth-quarter's robust 3.8 per cent annualized pace.
It was also the latest indication that economic growth moderated at the start of the year after a 2.5 per cent rate of expansion in the fourth quarter. Industrial production, home sales and core capital goods orders fell in January.
But spending remains underpinned by a strong labor market. In a separate report on Thursday, the Labor Department said initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 210,000 for the week ended Feb. 24, the lowest level since December 1969.
It was the 156th straight week that claims remained below the 300,000 threshold, which is associated with a strong labor market. That is the longest such stretch since 1970, when the labor market was much smaller.
Fed officials consider the labor market to be near or a little beyond full employment. The jobless rate is at a 17-year low of 4.1 per cent.
Consumer spending could also get a lift from the tax cuts, which boosted wages and savings in January.
Personal income rose 0.4 per cent after increasing by the same margin in December. The Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates that the tax package reduced personal income taxes by $115.5 billion at an annual rate.
Wages increased 0.5 per cent in January, bolstered by one-off bonuses that businesses gave workers as part of the tax-cut windfall. Wages rose 0.4 per cent in December.
Savings increased to $464.4 billion in January from $363.2 billion in the prior month. The saving rate jumped to 3.2 per cent from 2.5 per cent in December.