US Inflation Climbs Slower in February Yet Strengthens Year-Over-Year

Inflation in the United States climbed in line with expectations in February after exceeding projections in January, based on government figures released Tuesday, March 13, 2018.

Clothing and auto insurance costs continued to rise by higher-than-typical amounts with respective 1.5% and 1.7% increases from 1.7% and 1.3% previously, but prices at the pump fell by almost 1% after jumping nearly 6% in January.

Consumer prices in February rose 0.2% after they jumped 0.5% in January, the Labor Department said in its monthly report on the Consumer Price Index. The CPI measures what Americans pay for everything from coffee to cars.

In two key areas:

  • Gasoline prices declined 0.9% last month after they surged by 5.7% in January. That said, they soared 12.6% from February 2017. The broader index for energy, which combines items like gasoline, electricity and fuel oil, edged up 0.1% last month after rising 3% previously. The report shows its year-over-year increase at 7.7%.

  • Food prices overall registered flat after climbing 0.2% in each of the two previous months. They logged a 1.4% increase over the past 12 months.

Stripping the more volatile food and energy components, so-called core consumer prices also rose 0.2% in February following a 0.3% increase in January.

Within the grouping, shelter or housing costs rose 0.2% for a second month in a row. The index is 3.1% higher on a year-over-year basis. Components of shelter include pricing items like rent for apartments, rental equivalence, lodging away from home such as hotels, and housing at schools. The index accounts for about one-third of the entire CPI.

U.S. inflation advanced 2.2% over the past year compared to 2.1% previously.

Core inflation rose 1.8% in the 12 months through February, matching the annual rates reported in each of the past two months. The 12-month reading has been stuck at either 1.7% or 1.8% for ten consecutive months. The core annual measure 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.

"This inflation report likely does little to shift the narrative heading into the March FOMC meeting," MarketWatch quoted senior economist Ben Ayers at Nationwide. "While there is evidence of building inflationary pressures in certain components, the annual growth rates … do not suggest a breakout in inflation yet."

The following table of key inflation figures is for the last seven months through February, 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.

August to February 2018 Consumer Prices – Gains & Losses in Percent

  Aug 2017 Sept 2017 Oct 2017 Nov 2017 Dec 2017 Jan 2018 Mar 2018 12 Month
All items 0.4 0.5 0.1 0.3 0.2 0.5 0.2 2.2
  Food 0.1 0.1 0.1 .0 0.2 0.2 .0 1.4
    Food at home -0.1 .0 0.1 -0.1 0.2 0.1 -0.2 0.5
    Food away from home 0.3 0.3 0.1 0.2 0.2 0.4 0.2 2.6
  Energy 3.3 4.7 -1.4 3.2 -0.2 3.0 0.1 7.7
    Energy commodities 7.2 9.6 -3.0 5.8 -0.7 5.8 -0.9 12.8
      Gasoline (all types) 7.4 10.0 -3.2 6.0 -0.8 5.7 -0.9 12.6
      Fuel oil 5.2 6.4 1.4 5.6 0.9 9.5 -3.6 20.7
    Energy services -0.1 0. 0.4 0.5 0.4 -0.8 1.4 2.6
      Electricity .0 0.1 0.4 0.5 0.2 -0.2 0.4 2.2
      Utility (piped) gas service -0.5 -0.4 0.4 0.7 1.0 -2.6 4.7 3.8
  All items less food, energy 0.2 0.1 0.2 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.2 1.8
    Commodities less food, energy -0.1 -0.2 .0 -0.1 0.2 0.4 0.1 -0.5
      New vehicles .0 -0.3 -0.2 0.2 0.5 -0.1 -0.5 -1.5
      Used cars and trucks -0.1 -0.3 0.7 0.5 0.7 0.4 -0.3 -0.1
      Apparel .0 0.1 -0.2 -0.9 -0.3 1.7 1.5 0.4
      Medical care -0.2 -0.5 .0 0.5 0.9 -0.1 -0.3 1.6
    Services less energy 0.3 0.2 0.3 0.2 0.3 0.3 0.2 2.6
      Shelter 0.4 0.2 0.3 0.2 0.3 0.2 0.2 3.1
      Transportation 0.4 0.3 0.4 0.1 0.3 0.8 1.0 4.5
      Medical care 0.2 0.1 0.3 -0.1 0.2 0.6 .0 1.8

 

The BLS releases inflation data around the middle of every month based on consumer prices surveyed in the previous month. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) for March and the latest annual period become public on April 11, 2018.

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

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