Consumer prices in US increase by most since Feb 2013

People ride an escalator inside a H&M retail store during Black Friday events on Nov 25, 2016 in New York City.
People ride an escalator inside a H&M retail store during Black Friday events on Nov 25, 2016 in New York City. PHOTO: AFP/GETTY IMAGES

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - The United States cost of living increased in January by the most since February 2013, led by higher costs for gasoline and other goods and services that indicate inflation is gathering momentum.

The consumer-price index rose a larger-than-forecast 0.6 per cent after a 0.3 per cent gain in December, Labor Department figures showed Wednesday. Compared with the same month last year, costs paid by Americans for goods and services rose 2.5 per cent, the most since March 2012.

Higher prices for gasoline, apparel and new cars show cost pressures are building as steady demand provides some companies with pricing power. The figures underscore Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen's congressional testimony on Tuesday that more interest-rate increases will be appropriate if inflation picks up and the labor market remains tight.

"CPI inflation has been steady in recent months amid rising energy prices," Sam Bullard, senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities LLC in Charlotte, North Carolina, said in a note before the report. "After the past couple years, the transitory nature of the dip in inflation due to the decline in energy prices has come to fruition."

A 7.8 per cent jump in the cost of gasoline accounted for about half of the increase in the January CPI. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey called for a 0.3 per cent month-over-month advance in the CPI.

But costs of some other goods and services also moved up. Clothing prices jumped 1.4 per cent, the most since February 2009. Men's apparel surged by the most on record. New vehicle prices climbed 0.9 per cent in January, the biggest advance since November 2009.

The core CPI measure, which excludes volatile food and fuel costs, rose 0.3 per cent, the most in five months. Core inflation increased 2.3 per cent from January 2016.

The Bloomberg survey median called for the core index to rise 0.2 per cent from the previous month, and 2.1 per cent from the prior year.

"At our upcoming meetings, the committee will evaluate whether employment and inflation are continuing to evolve in line with these expectations, in which case a further adjustment of the federal funds rate would likely be appropriate," Ms Yellen told the Senate Banking Committee in prepared remarks Tuesday.

The Fed Chair reiterated that falling behind on inflation could do more harm to the economy and possibly cut short the expansion.

The Fed's preferred inflation gauge, the Commerce Department's personal consumption expenditures price index, has been below the central bank's 2 per cent target since April 2012. It finished with a gain of 1.6 per cent last year.

"Waiting too long to remove accommodation would be unwise, potentially requiring the FOMC to eventually raise rates rapidly, which could risk disrupting financial markets and pushing the economy into recession," she added.

Wednesday's report from the Labor Department showed energy costs increased 4 per cent from a month earlier. Food prices rose 0.1 per cent.

The CPI is the broadest of three price gauges from the Labor Department because it includes all goods and services. About 60 percent of the index covers prices consumers pay for services from medical visits to airline fares, movie tickets and rents.

The higher cost of living put a dent in Americans' paychecks in January, a separate report from the Labor Department showed Wednesday. Hourly earnings adjusted for inflation fell 0.5 per cent from the prior month and were unchanged over the past 12 months.