The Economy

Core Inflation Posts Biggest Jump in 17 Months

The pick-up in underlying inflation in June "argues against aggressive monetary stimulus from the central bank," an economist says.
Matthew HellerJuly 11, 2019

U.S. underlying inflation rose at the highest rate in nearly 1-1/2 years in June, possibly easing some of the pressure on the Federal Reserve to take aggressive monetary action.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that so-called core CPI — the consumer price index excluding the volatile food and energy components — jumped 0.3% last month, the largest increase since January 2018, after four straight monthly gains of 0.1%.

The overall consumer price index rose 0.1% in June, held back by cheaper gasoline and food. It increased 1.6% year-on-year in June, slowing from May’s 1.8% rise.

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Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the CPI unchanged in June and core inflation gaining 0.2%.

The Federal Reserve has signaled it will cut interest rates at its July 30-31 meeting, with chair Jay Powell telling Congress on Wednesday that there is a “risk that weak inflation will be even more persistent than we currently anticipate.”

The Fed’s preferred inflation measure — the core personal consumption expenditures price index — has undershot its 2% target this year.

But according to Reuters, the signs of a pick-up in underlying inflation could temper “financial market expectations of a 50 basis point cut at the end of the month and views that the Fed would lower borrowing costs at least twice this year.”

“This argues against aggressive monetary stimulus from the central bank,” said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG in New York. “Fed officials are unlikely to cut interest rates more than one or two times this year no matter how badly the Trump economics team wants even more stimulus.”

The June jump in core CPI reflected solid gains in a range of goods and services, including apparel, used cars, and trucks. The increase in prices for household furnishings, perhaps a byproduct of U.S. tariffs on China, was the largest in 28 years.

Eric Winograd, senior U.S. economist at Alliance Bernstein, noted that both vehicles and apparel “had been negative for the last few months and so the bounce this month is more likely payback for previous weakness rather than the start of a new trend.”