U.S. producer prices rose in August at the fastest pace in four months but the increase was less than econcomists expected and driven in large part by a surge in the cost gas.
The Labor Department said its producer price index for final demand increased 0.2 % last month after slipping 0.1% in July. In the 12 months through August, the PPI rose 2.4% after advancing 1.9% in July.
Economists had forecast the PPI gaining 0.3% last month and accelerating 2.5% from a year ago. The August gain was the largest since a 0.5% increase in April.
Gas costs last month rose 9.5%, the biggest gain since January, and could rise further in September in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, which disrupted oil refinery production in Texas. But crude supplies remain ample.
Excluding more volatile items like food and energy, inflation at the wholesale level was up 0.1% month-on-month in August — also weaker than the 0.2% increase economists had predicted.
The Federal Reserve is closely watching inflation as it considers the timing of the next interest rate increase. According to CNBC, economists said last month’s uptick in producer prices “was unlikely to assuage Federal Reserve policymakers’ concerns about low inflation as the increase was largely due to [the] increase in the cost of gas.”
The cost of food, meanwhile, fell 1.3% in August as wheat prices recorded their biggest drop since April 2008 and the prices of fresh vegetables, fruits and meat also fell. The decrease in food prices last month was the largest since February 2015 and followed an unchanged reading in July.
The Fed’s preferred measure of core inflation for consumers has risen just 1.4% over the past 12 months. The producer price gains for August “are a step in the right direction,” said Scott Anderson, chief economist at the Bank of the West in San Francisco.
“However, they are not yet quite as strong or as broad-based as the Federal Reserve would like to see to help push core consumer price inflation back up to the Fed’s 2 percent target,” he added.