U.S. consumer prices rise; underlying inflation tame

FILE PHOTO: A cashier handles money in Macy's Herald Square during early opening for the Black Friday sales in Manhattan
FILE PHOTO: A cashier handles money in Macy’s Herald Square during early opening for the Black Friday sales in Manhattan, New York, U.S., November 23, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/File Photo GLOBAL BUSINESS WEEK AHEAD

May 10, 2019

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. consumer prices rose in April but underlying inflation remained muted, suggesting the Federal Reserve could keep interest rates unchanged for a while.

The Labor Department said on Friday its Consumer Price Index increased 0.3 percent last month, lifted by rising gasoline, rents and healthcare costs. The CPI gained 0.4 percent in March.

In the 12 months through April, the CPI increased 2.0 percent after advancing 1.9 percent in March. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the CPI increasing 0.4 percent in April and advancing percent 2.1 percent year-on-year.

Excluding the volatile food and energy components, the CPI edged up 0.1 percent as apparel prices dropped for a second straight month. The so-called core CPI has increased by the same margin for three straight months.

In the 12 months through April, the core CPI increased 2.1 percent after gaining 2.0 percent in March.

The Fed last week kept interest rates unchanged and signaled little desire to adjust monetary policy anytime soon. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said he believed the recent weak inflation readings “may wind up being transient.”

The U.S. central bank, 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 1.6 percent on a year-on-year basis in March, the smallest rise in 14 months, after advancing 1.7 percent in February. The April PCE price index data will be published later this month.

In April, gasoline prices rose 5.7 percent, accounting for more than two-thirds of the increase in the CPI last month, after surging 6.5 percent in March.

Food prices dipped 0.1 percent in April after gaining 0.3 percent in the prior month. Food consumed at home dropped 0.5 percent. But consumers paid more for rent. 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 last month after rising by the same margin in March.

Healthcare costs increased 0.3 percent, matching March’s gain. Apparel prices declined 0.8 percent last month. They plunged 1.9 percent in March, which was the biggest drop since January 1949, after the government introduced a new method and data to calculate apparel prices.

Prices for used motor vehicles and trucks fell 1.3 percent, decreasing for a third straight month. There were decreases in the cost of airline fares, household furnishings and tobacco. The cost of new vehicles ticked up 0.1 percent after rising 0.4 percent in March.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani, Editing by Andrea Ricci)

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