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Cheaper gasoline restrains U.S. consumer prices

Reuters  |  WASHINGTON 

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. 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 on Wednesday its Consumer Price Index last month was held down by cheaper gasoline, which offset increases in the cost of and rents.

In the 12 months through January, the CPI rose 1.6 percent, the smallest gain since June 2017. The CPI increased 1.9 percent on a year-on-year basis in December.

Excluding the and energy components, the CPI gained 0.2 percent, rising by the same margin for a fifth straight month. In the 12 months through January, the so-called core CPI rose 2.2 percent for a third straight month.

Economists polled by had forecast the CPI edging up 0.1 percent in January and the core CPI rising 0.2 percent.

The dollar rose against a basket of currencies after the data, while U.S. stock index futures held gains. Prices of U.S. Treasuries were trading lower.

Despite the increases in the core CPI, underlying inflation remains moderate. The Fed, which has a 2 percent 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 percent on a year-on-year basis in November after rising 1.8 percent in October. It hit 2 percent 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 that ended on Jan. 25.

The Fed kept interest rates unchanged last month and removed from its December policy statement promises of "further gradual increases" in borrowing costs. said it would be "patient" before making further rate hikes.

MORE EXPENSIVE FOOD

With the January inflation report, the government started quality adjusting the CPI series related to such as land-line telephones, internet, cable and satellite television, to account for rapid technological change.

Inflation is remaining moderate despite a tightening labor market, in part because of slowing economic growth in and Europe, which is helping to

In January, gasoline prices fell 5.5 percent after dropping 5.8 percent in December. prices increased 0.2 percent, rising for a third straight month.

Food consumed at home edged up 0.1 percent last month. There were increases in the prices of poultry, eggs, fish and beef. But consumers paid less for fruits, vegetables, cereals and

Owners' equivalent rent of primary residence, which is what a homeowner would pay to rent or receive from renting a home, increased 0.3 percent in January after gaining 0.2 percent in the prior month. The cost of postage stamps jumped 1.7 percent and households paid more for

rose 0.2 percent after advancing 0.3 percent in December, with doctor visits costing more. Apparel prices jumped 1.1 percent last month, the biggest increase since February 2018.

There were also increases in the prices of new motor vehicles as well as used cars and trucks. dropped 0.9 percent. The cost of fell for a third straight month.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao)

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Wed, February 13 2019. 19:38 IST
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