Annual Rate of Inflation Eases in March; CPI Logs First Drop in 13 Months

The cost of living in the United States declined in March for the first time in more than a year, and the annual pace of inflation slowed somewhat following the biggest advance in over four years, according to newly released data in a government report published on Friday, April 14.

Consumer prices dropped 0.3% in March, their first decline since February 2016, after edging up 0.1% previously, the Labor Department said in its monthly report on the Consumer Price Index. The CPI measures what Americans pay for everything from tobacco to transportation.

"A decline in the gasoline index was the largest factor, with a decrease in the index for wireless telephone services
also contributing," the Labor Department said.

Prices at the pump fell for a second month in a row after rising for six straight, peaking in January at 7.8%. They slumped 6.2% in March, trimming their 12-month increase to 19.9% from the 30.7% reported previously.

The broader index for energy, which combines items like gas, electricity and fuel oil, fell 3.2% last month after falling 1% in February. Energy prices advanced 10.9% over the last 12 months.

Overall food prices picked up for a third month in a row, up 0.3% from 0.2%, after registering flat for sixth straight months. They are 0.5% higher over the longer 12-month haul.

Stripping the more volatile food and energy components, so-called core consumer prices dipped 0.1% in March, its first decrease since January 2010, following a 0.2% rise in February.

Shelter costs rose 0.1% — the least since June 2014, after moving up 0.3% previously. They remained 3.5% higher over the past 12 months. Components of shelter include pricing items like rent, rental equivalence, lodging away from home, and housing at school.

"The index for communication fell 3.5 percent as the index for wireless telephone services decreased 7.0 percent, the largest 1-month decline in the history of the index," the Labor Department noted.

Other major declining items included new vehicles, down -0.3%, used cars and trucks, down -0.9%, and clothing, down 0.7%.

U.S. inflation increased 2.4% through the 12 months ended March after soaring 2.7% previously for the biggest year-on-year advance since March 2012. (See recent 12-month inflation rates.)

Core inflation rose 2% on an annual basis, its smallest gain since November 2015, following a 2.2% increase previously. The core annual reading is one of the benchmark inflation rates monitored by the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) as it helps the central bank decide where to set its key interest rate.

"One very soft month does not make a new trend, though, so we will be looking for a clear rebound in April," Bloomberg News quoted Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics Ltd. "Another month like March, though, and a June rate hike will become much less likely."

The following table of key inflation figures is for the last seven months through March, as published by the U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov/cpi). To index the data each month, the BLS monitors the prices of about 80,000 consumer goods and services from around the nation. All monthly and annual pricing changes are in percentages.

September 2016 to March 2017 Consumer Prices – Gains & Losses in Percent

  Sept 2016 Oct 2016 Nov 2016 Dec 2016 Jan 2017 Feb 2017 Mar 2017 12 Month
All items 0.3 0.3 0.2 0.3 0.6 0.1 -0.3 2.4
  Food .0 .0 .0 .0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.5
    Food at home -0.2 -0.2 -0.1 -0.2 .0 0.3 0.5 -0.9
    Food away from home 0.2 0.1 0.1 0.2 0.4 0.2 0.2 2.4
  Energy 2.4 2.5 1.0 1.2 4.0 -1.0 -3.2 10.9
    Energy commodities 4.4 4.8 2.0 2.4 7.6 -2.8 -6.0 19.8
      Gasoline (all types) 4.6 5.1 2.1 2.4 7.8 -3.0 -6.2 19.9
      Fuel oil 2.4 5.9 -1.2 6.0 3.5 -0.4 -0.8 24.9
    Energy services 0.6 0.4 .0 .0 0.3 1.0 -0.3 3.4
      Electricity 0.5 0.3 .0 .0 .0 0.8 -0.1 1.6
      Utility (piped) gas service 0.8 0.9 0.2 0.1 1.5 1.5 -0.8 10.3
  All items less food, energy 0.1 0.1 0.2 0.2 0.3 0.2 -0.1 2.0
    Commodities less food, energy -0.1 .0 -0.2 .0 0.4 .0 -0.3 -0.6
      New vehicles .0 0.2 .0 0.1 0.9 -0.2 -0.3 0.2
      Used cars and trucks -0.2 -0.1 0.2 0.2 -0.4 -0.6 -0.9 -4.7
      Apparel -0.5 0.2 -0.3 -0.4 1.4 0.6 -0.7 0.6
      Medical care 0.6 0.2 -0.4 0.5 0.3 -0.2 0.2 3.9
    Services less energy 0.2 0.2 0.3 0.3 0.3 0.3 -0.1 2.9
      Shelter 0.3 0.3 0.3 0.3 0.2 0.3 0.1 3.5
      Transportation .0 -0.1 0.5 0.5 0.6 0.7 0.4 3.8
      Medical care 0.1 0.1 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.1 3.4

 

The BLS releases inflation data around the middle of every month based on consumer prices surveyed through to the previous month. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) for April and the latest annual period becomes public on May 12, 2017.

CPI data is used in calculating inflation rates and in this site’s calculator for CPI inflation. The US Inflation Calculator shows cumulative inflation and the change in buying power of the U.S. dollar over time.

Leave a Reply