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Consumer Goods Prices and Inflation

The cost of living surged in October

Consumer prices increased 0.9% in one month

Inflation was red hot in October. The Labor Department reports that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose by 0.9% last month from September. On a year-over-year (YOY) basis, inflation is surging at 6.2%, the highest rate since 1990.

The monthly all items seasonally adjusted increase was broad-based, with consumers paying more for energy, shelter, food, used cars and trucks, and new vehicles. Energy costs were 4.8% higher, largely driven by the cost of gasoline.

Food costs w...

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    Consumer prices rose 0.6 percent in July

    Gasoline cost more while food prices went down

    The cost of living rose in July by more than most economists expected, but there’s not a lot of concern that we’re about to experience a burst of inflation.

    While it’s true the government is pumping a lot of money into the economy, unemployment remains high and the economy isn’t growing. In fact, it’s moving in the other direction.

    The Labor Department reports its Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose 0.6 percent in July, fueled mostly by an increase in gasoline prices. However, prices at the pump have leveled off in the last couple of weeks and have actually drifted lower. The government reports that the energy index increased 2.5 percent in July as the Index tracking gasoline prices rose 5.6 percent. 

    Lower food costs

    Food prices for July moved lower, with the food index declining by 0.4 percent. It was driven lower by a 1.1 percent decline in food prepared at home.

    The cost of car insurance moved sharply higher last month as the steep discounts offered by major carriers during the initial pandemic expired. Consumers also paid more last month for rent, communication, used cars and trucks, and health care services.

    Over a 12-month period, inflation is rising at 1.0 percent, not nearly enough to set off alarm bells. The Federal Reserve would actually like prices to rise at a 2.0 percent rate. Economists are generally pleased with the July report. Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics in Toronto, told Reuters that inflation in July appeared to be in a healthy spot.

    “This should end any speculation that the pandemic-related slump in demand will quickly push the economy into a deflationary spiral,” he said. “But this is not a sign that the U.S. is instead about to experience a bout of much high inflation because of supply restrictions.”

    Inflation over the last 12 months

    When the July numbers are placed in the context of the last 12 months, the cost of food has risen 4.1 percent since July 2019. Even though it rose in July, the cost of energy has actually declined 11.2 percent over the last year.

    There are areas of the economy where consumers have faced rising costs and may be likely to do so in the coming months. While the price of prescription drugs dipped slightly last month, the cost of physician services jumped 0.7 percent and hospital services cost 0.2 percent more.

    There was a big jump in the cost of wireless communication services, which rose 3.6 percent. Used vehicle prices rose 2.3 percent, ending three straight months of declines.

    The cost of living rose in July by more than most economists expected, but there’s not a lot of concern that we’re about to experience a burst of inflation...
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    The cost of living rose slightly in December

    The Labor Department reports that 2019’s inflation rate was 2.3 percent

    The Labor Department reports its Consumer Price Index (CPI), the chief way it measures inflation, rose 0.2 percent in December, a slowdown from the 0.3 percent rise the month before.

    Taking the previous 11 months into consideration, the official inflation rate for all of 2019 was 2.3 percent, in line with the Federal Reserve’s target. Even so, it was the largest 12-month increase in prices since 2018.

    But whether or not you felt financially stressed last month all depends on what you purchased. The cost of gasoline, housing, and health care all went up last month, accounting for most of the increase in the overall CPI.

    The food index, which measures costs for food consumed at home and in restaurants, also went up by 0.2 percent. When food and energy are removed from the equation, prices rose just 0.1 percent.

    The monthly report shows that consumers also paid more last month for clothing, car insurance, new vehicles, and recreation. They paid less for used cars and trucks, household furnishings and operations, and airline fares.

    Energy led the increase

    Energy costs made the biggest move last month, primarily due to rising gasoline prices. The energy index was up 1.4 percent in December, its third straight increase. 

    Energy was driven higher by a 2.8 percent jump in the gasoline component, as prices at the pump drifted higher at a time they were predicted to fall. By the end of the year, the average price of gasoline was about 36 cents a gallon higher than the year before.

    Food costs were pushed higher by increases in prices for meats, poultry, fish, and eggs. It was the only grocery store group to go up in price, rising 1.3 percent. Within that group, beef and eggs posted the largest increases.

    Analysts say the overall inflation number, which remains tame, is likely to persuade the Fed that it’s on the right course and there should be no adjustment in interest rates, at least in the near term.

    The Labor Department reports its Consumer Price Index (CPI), the chief way it measures inflation, rose 0.2 percent in December, a slowdown from the 0.3 per...
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    Inflation remains tame, but not for everyone

    A new survey shows women are pressured by rising prices more than men

    The latest report from the government on consumer prices shows inflation remains tame, but a survey of consumers shows something different. Many consumers, especially women, don’t think they’re keeping up.

    The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose in October by 0.4 percent, creating an inflation rate of 1.8 percent over the last 12 months. That’s slightly below where the Federal Reserve would like to see prices.

    The official inflation rate rose last month largely because of higher gasoline prices, which have begun to slowly come down -- except in California. The index covering all forms of energy jumped 2.7 percent last month. The cost of medical care, recreation, and restaurants also rose.

    More than half don’t think they’re keeping up

    The prices consumers paid for clothing, household furnishings, new cars and trucks, and airline tickets went down in October. But if you didn’t buy any of those things, it might not feel like inflation is so tame.

    That’s the conclusion of a survey of consumers conducted by CPI Inflation Calculator, a private online tool that analyzes inflation trends using official government data. A survey of 1,500 consumers between the ages of 18 and 65 found 56.1 percent don’t believe they’re keeping up with the rising cost of living.

    Women were even more likely to say inflation isn’t so tame, with more than 63 percent of female respondents giving that response. Women 18 to 24 years of age feel the pinch even more, with 75 percent saying they aren’t keeping up with the cost of living. Fewer than 60 percent of men in that same age group gave that response.

    Only 30 percent of the consumers participating in the survey said they are able to keep up with inflation. But again, when broken down demographically, more men than women declared that inflation is not a problem. Forty-two percent of men between the ages of 45 and 64 were not concerned about rising prices.

    It often depends on what you buy

    Whether a consumer is affected by inflation often comes down to where the individual consumer spends their money. If they have health problems or a child in college, they are most likely to think inflation is a problem. The costs of both of those categories are rising much faster than the rate of inflation.

    Geography may also have something to do with it. Consumers who live in large coastal cities likely encounter a generally higher cost of living than people living in small- to medium-sized cities.

    The latest report from the government on consumer prices shows inflation remains tame, but a survey of consumers shows something different. Many consumers,...
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    Inflation rose in July, but rates are still below the Fed’s desired levels

    Gasoline and housing led the increase

    Inflation picked up its pace in July but is still relatively low, according to the latest report from the Labor Department.

    The Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose 0.3 percent in July after going up just 0.1 percent in June. Over the last 12 months, the inflation rate is 1.8 percent, just below the Federal Reserve’s desired inflation rate of 2 percent.

    July prices rose mainly on the basis of more expensive housing and gasoline, though gas prices have dropped in August and are expected to keep falling. The index for food was unchanged for the second month in a row. It cost less to prepare meals at home last month, but the cost of visiting restaurants went up.

    “The index for all items less food and energy rose 0.3 in July, the same increase as in June,” the Labor Department said in its release. "The July rise was broad-based, with increases in the indexes for shelter, medical care, airline fares, household furnishings and operations, apparel, and personal care all contributing to the increase. The index for new

    vehicles was one of the few to decline in July.”

    More expensive fruit and vegetables

    Consumers paid more last month for fresh fruits and vegetables, with the prices of those items rising 0.3 percent. The cost of cereals and bakery products increased by the same amount, with the price of meats, poultry, fish, and eggs going up 0.1 percent.

    But three of the major grocery store food group indexes declined last month. The cost of nonalcoholic beverages fell for the second straight month, declining 0.4 percent. The index for dairy and related products fell 0.3 percent after rising in each of the previous five months.

    The report may have an uncertain impact on the Fed’s decision to cut interest rates or leave them at present levels. Prices rose, but not by that much. Another interest rate cut could push the inflation rate to 2 percent, the Fed’s desired target.

    Inflation picked up its pace in July but is still relatively low, according to the latest report from the Labor Department.The Consumer Price Index (CP...
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    Inflation continued its slow pace in April

    There’s little in the government’s report that would lead the Fed to hike rates

    Even with sharply rising gasoline prices in much of the nation, inflation was fairly tame last month. The Labor Department reports that the Consumer Price Index rose 0.3 percent in April following a 0.4 percent increase in March.

    Gasoline accounted for much of the increase, rising 5.7 percent. The overall energy index was up 2.9 percent.

    Partially offsetting more expensive gasoline, food prices actually went down in April, recording their first decline in nearly two years.

    The cost of housing, medical care, education,  and new vehicles all went up in April. But the cost of used cars and trucks, apparel, and household furnishings and operations were among those that declined during the month.   

    ‘Happy story for families’

    “The inflation story continues to be a happy one for American families, coming in tame for another month,” Robert Frick, corporate economist for Navy Federal Credit Union, said in an email to ConsumerAffairs. “With wages rising above 3 percent and the Consumer Price Index hovering around 2 percent,  real wages are rising from an average of 1.2 percent for low-skilled workers to 1.6 percent for high-skill workers.”

    Frick says workers aren't seeing wage increases as high as in previous late-stage expansions because of slack in the labor force, but he said wages could rise if the labor market tightens again.

    The slow rise in consumer prices, along with more modest increases in wage growth, will likely influence the Federal Reserve to hold the line of further rate hikes this year.

    Even with sharply rising gasoline prices in much of the nation, inflation was fairly tame last month. The Labor Department reports that the Consumer Price...
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    The Federal Reserve thinks economic weakness is only ‘transitory’

    The prospect of higher inflation means the Fed isn’t going to cut interest rates

    For months it’s been an article of faith that inflation is low and the Federal Reserve will hold off on any further rate hikes.

    But one simple comment from Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has economists -- and the financial markets -- second-guessing that assumption.

    Following the Fed’s two-day meeting, Powell told reporters the Fed believes the economy is showing some signs of weakness but said it is because of “transitory” issues. In other words, the Fed doesn’t expect that weakness to last.

    That’s actually pretty good news, but the financial markets didn’t see it that way since it is hoping the Fed will actually cut interest rates. Powell made it pretty clear that’s off the table if there is a chance inflation can start to rise. And if the economy gains more traction prices could go higher.

    The Fed would like a little inflation in the economy and has set a target of 2 percent inflation as ideal. So far, however, inflation remains well short of that goal at 1.6 percent.

    “If we did see inflation running persistently below, that is something the committee would be concerned about and something we would take into account when setting policy,” Powell said.

    But Powell said the Fed doesn’t expect that to happen and therefore probably won’t be cutting rates anytime soon.

    Tame inflation so far this year

    In its most recent inflation gauge, the Labor Department reported the Consumer Price Index, a measure of inflation at the retail level, rose 0.2 percent in February after being flat the month before. In the last 12 months, the CPI is up just 1.5 percent.

    But some consumers complain that the prices of some goods and services are moving up at a faster rate. Despite the low numbers for February, government economists said consumers faced higher costs for housing, food, and gasoline.

    Food costs were up 0.4 percent, their largest monthly increase since May 2014, as both the food at home and food away from home indexes increased.

    The index tracking the cost of gasoline rose 1.5 percent in February, following three consecutive monthly declines. That pushed the overall cost of energy up 0.4 percent despite declines in the electricity and natural gas indexes.

    For months it’s been an article of faith that inflation is low and the Federal Reserve will hold off on any further rate hikes.But one simple comment f...
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    Cost of living rises at fastest rate of the year in March

    But most of the increase was fueled by gasoline prices

    Inflation jumped in March due to higher gasoline prices and rising food costs.

    The Labor Department reports that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose 0.4 percent in March, twice the rate of February’s increase. Despite the sizable increase, inflation over the last 12 months is still running just under the Federal Reserve’s target of 2 percent.

    Consumers saw the biggest price hikes last month in gasoline and other energy costs. That category was up 3.5 percent, accounting for about 60 percent of the seasonally adjusted all items monthly increase.

    The index tracking gasoline prices rose sharply, along with the electricity index. With the heating season mostly over, natural gas prices were slightly lower.

    Higher food costs

    Food costs were higher last month, rising 0.3 percent. That follows a 0.4 percent increase in February. Most of the higher costs were in the produce section, with fresh vegetables rising 2 percent and fresh fruit going up 1.2 percent.

    Despite the monthly rise in the CPI, Robert Frick, corporate economist for Navy Federal Credit Union, says inflation is still fairly tame, given the slow rise in wages.

    “The index for all items except food and energy was up just 0.1 percent,” Frick told ConsumerAffairs. “The difference between this core number and headline number was mainly due to the energy index rising 3.5 percent in March. The food index also showed an increase, and in the last year that portion of CPI was up 2.1 percent, the most since 2015.”

    Nothing to alarm the Fed

    The CPI strips out food and energy costs from its main inflation number because those two sectors tend to be highly volatile. Frick says rising food costs may be a sign of economic health because consumers feel confident enough to splurge at the supermarket and at restaurants.

    “These steady-as-it-goes numbers should have little effect on the Federal Reserve's decision to raise, lower or stand pat on rates,” he said.

    Two sectors that were down in February were back up in March. Medical care costs rose 0.3 percent last month, largely due to a 0.6 percent jump in the cost of prescription drugs.

    New car costs were 0.4 percent higher last month after giving ground in February. Meanwhile, clothing prices dropped 1.9 percent in March after going up in February.

    Inflation jumped in March due to higher gasoline prices and rising food costs.The Labor Department reports that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose 0.4...
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    The Federal Reserve forecasts clear skies for the near future

    Inflation for non-food and non-energy items hold steady near 2 percent

    Borrowers and lenders alike breathed a collective sigh of relief on Wednesday as Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell’s forecast gave two thumbs up. In a nutshell, Powell’s outlook was affirmative.

    “My colleagues and I have one over-arching goal: to sustain the economic expansion with a strong job market and stable prices for the benefit of the American people. The U.S. economy is in a good place, and we will continue to use our monetary policy tools to keep it there,” he said.

    As far as interest rates and inflation go, Powell envisioned that interest rates will be in a holding pattern for a while and confirmed that inflation continues to be in check.

    “We don’t see data coming in that suggests that we should move in either direction,” Powell commented after officials lowered their projected 2019 interest-rate increases this year to zero from two. “They suggest that we should remain patient and let the situation clarify itself over time. It may be some time before the outlook for jobs and inflation calls clearly for a change in policy.”

    The Fed reports that on a 12-month basis, inflation has declined across the board, pegging the shift on lower energy prices. Looking further down the balance sheet, inflation for non-food and non-energy items are holding steady near 2 percent.

    “On balance, market-based measures of inflation compensation have remained low in recent months, and survey-based measures of longer-term inflation expectations are little changed,” wrote the agency in its review of the current financial climate.

    The deeper dive

    While low inflation sounds like a good thing from a consumer angle, Powell called out global price pressures as being weak -- in his words, “one of the major challenges of our time.”

    “I don’t feel that we have kind of convincingly achieved our 2 percent mandate in a symmetrical way,” Powell reflected. “That gives us the ability to be patient, and not move until we see that our target goals are being achieved.”

    The jury might be out for a while trying to decipher Powell’s request for patience. “It was very dovish,’’ Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpont Securities LLC, told Bloomberg. “It suggests that the Fed has jumped to the conclusion that the weakening we have seen since the start of the year will be more fundamental and more persistent, rather than being temporary crosscurrents.”

    “Policy makers appear to have cooled on the notion of any meaningful, lasting impact from last year’s tax reforms and instead project a return to trend growth, a stabilization of the unemployment rate and little pickup in price pressures. Amid this backdrop, they do not see much need to further normalize interest rates,” wrote Bloomberg economists Carl Riccadonna, Yelena Shulyatyeva, and Tim Mahedy.

    Borrowers and lenders alike breathed a collective sigh of relief on Wednesday as Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell’s forecast gave two thumbs up. In a...
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    Inflation remains tame in February

    The outcome likely means that the Federal Reserve won’t be hiking interest rates

    The Consumer Price Index (CPI), the government’s primary inflation gauge, rose 0.2 percent in February after being flat the month before. In the last 12 months, the CPI is up 1.5 percent, well below the Federal Reserve’s inflation target.

    The means the Fed is even more likely to hit the pause button on additional interest rate hikes for the rest of 2019. Robert Frick, corporate economist at Navy Federal Credit Union, says the numbers were up but not as much as expected.

    “Inflation doesn’t appear to be heating up enough to trigger the Fed to raise interest rates, and it also shows that increases in wages aren’t pushing up prices much,” Frick said in an email to ConsumerAffairs. “No Fed action, tame inflation, and a good wages and jobs situation mean we remain in the Goldilocks zone for American workers and consumers.”

    Some rising costs

    Despite the low numbers consumers faced higher costs last month for housing, food, and gasoline. Food costs were up 0.4 percent, their largest monthly increase since May 2014, as both the food at home and food away from home indexes increased.

    The index tracking the cost of gasoline rose 1.5 percent in February, following three consecutive monthly declines. That pushed the overall cost of energy up 0.4 percent despite declines in the electricity and natural gas indexes.   

    While it’s always good for consumers when prices remain stable, the best news in the report is the influence on the Fed’s interest rate policy. The Fed’s discount rate directly correlates to credit card interest rates.

    If the Fed holds off on rate hikes for the rest of 2019, it means consumers’ interest rates on their credit card balances won’t be going up.

    The Consumer Price Index (CPI), the government’s primary inflation gauge, rose 0.2 percent in February after being flat the month before. In the last 12 mo...
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    There was almost no inflation in the economy in January

    Increases in the cost of food and health care were balanced by cheaper gasoline

    You might not notice any change in the high cost of college or health care, but the overall inflation rate didn’t budge in January.

    The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) was unchanged last month. For the year, the CPI is up only 1.6 percent, well below the Federal Reserve’s target of 2 percent.

    Food and energy costs, which together were lower in January, kept the CPI in check. When those two categories are removed, prices were up 0.2 percent. Robert Frick, corporate economist at Navy Federal Credit Union, says it’s almost as though Goldilocks wrote the CPI report since it was “just right.”

    “The overall index was unchanged for January, and all items were up just 1.6% over the last year,” Frick said in an email to ConsumerAffairs. “Just as important, wages again ticked up, rising 0.1 percent in January. No increase in inflation combined with a rise in wages means American workers' real wages -- nominal wages minus inflation -- increased for another month.”

    Moving in the right direction

    While wages were higher, Frick says consumers haven’t seen the kind of real wage gains that have been present in other late-stage expansions. Even so, he says paychecks are moving in the right direction -- and the report holds more good news for consumers.

    “This also argues against the Fed raising rates soon, at least, keeping the expansion expanding to the benefit of workers,” Frick said. “They should expect a continued strong jobs market together with rising real wages for the foreseeable future."

    If the Fed decides there is no need to raise interest rates again, it means the interest rate on credit cards will likely remain stable over the next few months. Consumers carrying large credit card balances have seen their credit card interest payments rise every time the Fed hiked the federal funds rate.

    Gasoline prices fall

    In a big break for consumers, energy costs went down for a third consecutive month. The price of gasoline was down 5.5 percent.

    The price of food was slightly higher last month, rising 0.2 percent from December. The biggest increase in food costs came in the restaurant sector.

    Consumers paid more for housing, clothing, medical care, recreation, and household furnishings and operations last month. Airfares were cheaper and so were car insurance policies.

    You might not notice any change in the high cost of college or health care, but the overall inflation rate didn’t budge in January.The Bureau of Labor...
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