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Tags: inflation | prices | interest rates | economy | federal reserve

US Inflation Eases Slightly to 3.1% as Gas Falls

US Inflation Eases Slightly to 3.1% as Gas Falls
(AP)

Tuesday, 12 December 2023 08:50 AM EST

U.S. inflation ticked down again last month, with cheaper gas helping further lighten the weight of consumer price increases in the United States.

At the same time, the latest data on consumer inflation showed that prices in some areas — services such as restaurants, used cars and auto insurance — continued to rise uncomfortably fast.

Tuesday’s report from the Labor Department said the consumer price index rose just 0.1% from October to November. Compared with a year earlier, prices were up 3.1% in November, down from a 3.2% year-over-year rise in October.

Core prices, which exclude volatile food and energy costs, rose 0.3% from October to November, slightly faster than the 0.2% increase the previous month. Measured from a year ago, core prices rose 4%, the same as in October. The Federal Reserve considers core prices to be a better guide to the future path of inflation.

The mixed picture in Tuesday’s inflation report will likely keep the Fed on track to leave its benchmark interest rate unchanged when its latest meeting ends Wednesday. Inflation still exceeds the Fed’s 2% annual target, which is why its officials are set to leave rates high. But with inflation cooling faster than expected, the Fed’s policymakers likely see no cause to further raise rates, at least for now.

The Fed’s widely expected decision Wednesday to keep its key rate unchanged for a third straight time suggests that it's probably done raising borrowing costs. The central bank has raised its key rate to about 5.4%, the highest level in 22 years, in a determined drive to conquer inflation. Its rate hikes have made mortgages, auto loans, business borrowing and other forms of credit much costlier, reflecting the Fed’s goal of slowing borrowing and spending enough to tame inflation.

The Fed considers core prices to be a better guide to the likely path of inflation. Analysts say that increases in the costs of hotel rooms, airfares and possibly used cars might have accelerated core prices in November.

Gas prices, by contrast, have tumbled since September, having reached a national average of about $3.35 a gallon in mid-November, from a peak of $5 about a year and a half ago, according to AAA. The national average has since fallen further and hit $3.15 a gallon Monday.

Grocery store inflation has proved especially persistent and a drain on many households’ finances. Food prices remain about 25% higher than they were two years ago.

If core prices did rise 4% in November from a year earlier for a second straight month, it would provide support for the Fed's expected decision Wednesday to keep its benchmark interest rate unchanged for a third straight time. Chair Jerome Powell and other Fed officials have welcomed inflation's steady fall from 9.1% in June 2022 to 3.2% in October. But they have cautioned that the pace of price increases is still too high for the Fed to let down its guard.

As a result, even if the central bank is done raising rates, it's expected to keep its benchmark rate, which affects many consumer and business loans, at a peak for at least several more months.

Powell has even warned that the Fed might decide to raise rates again if it deems it necessary to defeat high inflation. The Fed raised its key short-term rate 11 times starting in March 2022, to 5.4%, the highest level in 22 years. Its goal has been to increase the costs of mortgages, auto loans, business borrowing and other credit to slow spending enough to further cool inflation.

Inflation has eased much faster this year than economists and Fed officials had expected. According to a separate inflation gauge that the Fed prefers, core prices rose 3.5% in October compared with 12 months earlier. That was less than the central bank's forecast of 3.7% for the final three months of this year.

Inflation's steady decline has sparked speculation about interest rate cuts next year, with some economists floating the potential for cuts as early as March. The Fed's preferred inflation gauge has increased at an annual pace of just 2.5% in the past six months.

But Powell has so far brushed aside the idea that the Fed might cut rates anytime soon. He is expected to say so again Wednesday.

“It would be premature," Powell said earlier this month, “to speculate” on the possibility of Fed rate cuts.

Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.


StreetTalk
U.S. inflation ticked down again last month, with cheaper gas helping further lighten the weight of consumer price increases in the United States.
inflation, prices, interest rates, economy, federal reserve
755
2023-50-12
Tuesday, 12 December 2023 08:50 AM
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