Fleet Management

Economic Watch: Producer Prices Fall, Consumer Sentiment Weakens

March 14, 2014

By Evan Lockridge

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Prices at the wholesale level fell in February, according to a U.S. Labor Department report released Friday, leaving little worry that inflation is a problem.

The Producer Price Index declined 0.1% from the month before, the first drop since November. It has increased just under 1% from the same time a year ago.

Excluding the volatile food and energy sectors, the core PPI fell 0.2% in February from January. On an annual basis the core PPI is up 1.1%.

Goods prices rose 0.4% in February, for the third consecutive month. Service prices, on the other hand, fell 0.3%, the third monthly decline in the past six.

“Amid tepid and uneven demand both domestically and internationally, price pressures remain subdued,” said Lindsey Piegza, chief economist with the investment firm Sterne Agee. “From the Federal Reserve’s standpoint, with inflation well below the 2% target and even further below the 2.5% threshold, [it] can continue to focus on a moderate pace of monthly bond purchase reductions with an option to taper the taper if labor market conditions deteriorate precipitously.”

She noted at this point there remains ample slack in the labor market with no impetus for wage pressure.

Meantime, a separate report shows consumer sentiment about the economy has weakened.

The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan Index of Consumer Sentiment fell to 79.9 from 81.6 the month before, its lowest reading since November. Earlier readings show it was at 81.2 in January, 82.5 in December and 75.1 in November.

Also, consumer expectations fell to 69.4 in March from 72.7 in February, also the lowest reading since November when it measured 66.8.

Surprisingly, measure of how consumers view current conditions increased to 96.1 from 95.4 in February and 96.8 in January. The index came in at 98.6 in December, and 88 in November's report.

Many analysts feel harsh winter weather and concerns about geopolitical situations and their effect on the U.S. economy may have pulled down the readings.

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