Consumer Prices Accelerate In February On Higher Energy Costs

U.S. consumer price inflation ticked higher last month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. Headline inflation rose by a seasonally adjusted 0.5% in February, up from 0.4% the month before. Core inflation, however, remained modest, advancing 0.2% last month, unchanged from January’s rate.

Rising energy prices were the main culprit, posting a 3.4% increase in February, up sharply from January’s 2.1% rate. “Food indexes also continued to rise in February,” the Labor Department notes, “with sharp increases in the indexes for fresh vegetables and meats contributing to a 0.8 percent increase in the food at home index, the largest since July 2008.”
The price increases are lifting the annual pace of CPI inflation, as the chart below shows. Headline consumer price inflation rose 2.2% over the past year through February, the highest since April 2010. Core inflation, which tends to cast a bigger influence on the Fed’s monetary policy, inched higher too. Core CPI is now higher by 1.1% over the past year. Based on recent history, however, that’s still quite low and at the lower end of the Fed’s reported target range of 1% to 2%.

A number of economists advise that inflation still isn’t worrisome if energy and food costs moderate in the months ahead, as some analysts expect. Unless commodity prices continue rising, anticipating a relative slowdown in inflation’s higher pace of late is reasonable. As Reuters reports this morning,

Though the increase in core CPI was a touch above economists’ expectations for a 0.1 percent gain, it suggested that surging costs for energy and other commodities, which have been hitting producers and consumers alike, had yet to generate the type of broad inflation that would spur the Federal Reserve to respond.

The Fed said on Tuesday it expected the upward price pressure from commodities to be temporary but it would closely monitor inflation and inflation expectations.

“I don’t think it means anything for the Fed. They’re going to probably wind up saying some of this is transitory. It won’t be sustained,” said Tom Porcelli, U.S. economist at RBC Capital Markets in New York.