PhotoFor the first time in five months, the government's Consumer Price Index (CPI) has failed to rise.

According to the Department of Labor (DOL), the CPI was unchanged in July, as energy costs declined and food prices held steady. During the last 12 months, consumer prices have risen 0.8%.

Energy and food costs

Energy costs plunged 1.6% last month following a 6.1% surge over the previous three months. A major factor in the July decline was gasoline prices, which fell 4.7%. Fuel oil costs also slipped, dropping 1.3%. Natural gas prices, on the other hand, jumped 3.1%, its largest increase in more than two years, while the cost of electricity rose 0.5%. Energy prices are down 10.9% over the past year.

The price of food was unchanged in July following declines in May and June, with food at home -- grocery prices -- down 0.2%, the seventh decline in the last nine months. Four of the six major grocery store food groups were lower, with meats, poultry, fish, and eggs down 0.6%, followed by dairy and related products (-0.4%), cereals & bakery products, and other food at home (both -0.2%).

The price of fruits and vegetables both rose (+0.3%) along with alcoholic beverages (+0.3%). Food costs over the past year are up just 0.2% -- the smallest 12-month increase since the period ending March 2010.

Core inflation

The cost of items excluding the volatile food and energy components “core inflation” rose 0.1% in July, with the price of a shelter up 0.2%, the smallest increase since March. Prices for medical care, new vehicles, and motor vehicle insurance also were on the rise. Airline fares, used cars and trucks, communication, and recreation costs were among those that fell.

For the 12 months ending in July, core inflation was up 2.2%, versus an increase of 2.3% for the year ending in June.

The complete July CPI report is available on the DOL website.

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