US inflation rise boosts expectations of rate hike

Signs of stabilisation in consumer prices likely to be welcomed by Fed officials

WASHINGTON • US consumer prices increased in October after two straight months of declines as the cost of petrol and a range of other goods rose - a tentative sign that the drag on inflation from a strong dollar and lower oil prices was starting to ease.

The modest rise in inflation last month could boost expectations that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates next month.

The Labour Department said yesterday the consumer price index (CPI) increased 0.2 per cent last month, reversing September's 0.2 per cent drop. In the 12 months to the end of October, the CPI advanced 0.2 per cent. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the CPI rising 0.2 per cent last month and edging up 0.1 per cent from a year ago.

Signs of stabilisation in prices after a recent downward spiral are likely to be welcomed by Fed officials and give them some confidence that inflation will gradually move towards the central bank's 2 per cent target. Inflation has persistently run below target.

In the wake of a robust October employment report, the US central bank is expected to raise its benchmark overnight interest rate from near zero at its Dec 15-16 meeting.

There is hope that tightening labour market conditions, characterised by a jobless rate now in a range that some Fed officials view as consistent with full employment, will put upward pressure on wages and drive inflation towards its target.

The so-called core CPI, which strips out food and energy costs, gained 0.2 per cent after a similar rise in September. Rents and medical costs accounted for much of the increase in the core CPI last month.

The Fed tracks the personal consumption expenditures price index, excluding food and energy, which is running below the core CPI. The dollar's 18 per cent rise against the currencies of the US' main trading partners since June last year has weighed on prices of goods such as apparel and cars.

Last month, petrol prices rose 0.4 per cent after falling 9 per cent in September. There were also rises in the cost of electricity.

Food prices edged up 0.1 per cent, the smallest gain since May, after rising 0.4 per cent in September. Four of the six major grocery store food group indexes rose last month, with cereals and bakery products posting the largest increase since August 2011.

The rental index increased 0.3 per cent after rising 0.4 per cent in September. Medical care costs rose 0.7 per cent, the largest increase since April. Hospital costs increased 2 per cent.

Airline fares rose 1.5 per cent, ending a string of three consecutive declines, but apparel prices recorded their biggest decline since December.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 18, 2015, with the headline 'US inflation rise boosts expectations of rate hike'. Print Edition | Subscribe