Economic Watch: Consumer Prices Higher, Inflation Still Weak

May 22, 2015

By Evan Lockridge

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Consumer prices moved barely higher in April, but it was enough to make for the third consecutive monthly increase, according to a new Commerce Department report.

The 0.1% increase in April follows a 0.2% gain in March.

Over the past 12 months the Consumer Price Index is down 0.2% as of April. That's the biggest drop since October 2009 and compares to an annual rate in March down 0.1%.

In April, prices for shelter rose along with those for medical care, household furnishings, used cars and light trucks along with new vehicles. In contrast, costs for apparel, airline fares and energy fell. Food prices were unchanged.

The so-called core CPI, which strips out volatile food and energy costs, increased 0.3% in April, the biggest gain since January 2013. Over the past year the core CPI moved higher by 1.8% in April.

Some analysts believe the increase in the core CPI will push the U.S. Federal Reserve to hike short-term interest rates from near zero, after minutes released this week from its April meeting showed there was a push to do so. Others don’t see it happening in the near future.

“Despite a slightly stronger rise in monthly prices in April, the downward trend remains well established, pushing annual inflation further into negative territory,” said Lindsey Piegza, chief economist at the investment firm Sterne Agee. “From the Fed's point of view, there is little evidence to suggest policy makers should be ‘reasonably confident’ in a near-term reversal in price pressures back towards the longer-term target of 2%. Coupled with the recent malaise in economic activity, continued sluggish prices suggest the Fed has little motivation to adjust policy any time soon.”

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