U.S. Consumer Prices Rise 0.3% in April; Annual Inflation Increases 2%

The U.S. inflation place slowed somewhat in April from March and from a year earlier, according to government figures released Friday, May 10, 2019.

Overall food prices declined for the first time in almost two years but gasoline prices advanced for a third month in row to account for more than two-thirds of April’s price increase. Compared to a year ago, both were sharply higher.

U.S. consumer prices rose 0.3% in April after climbing 0.4% in March, the Labor Department said in its monthly report on the Consumer Price Index. The CPI is a broad measure of what American consumers pay for everything from oranges to fuel oil.

In key pricing categories:

  • Prices at the pump picked up 5.7% after jumping 6.5% previously. Gas prices firmed 3.1% from a year ago. The broader index for energy, which combines items like gasoline, electricity and fuel oil, rose 2.9% from 3.5%. Energy prices registered 1.7% higher year-over-year.

  • Food prices dipped 0.1% — their first monthly decline since June 2017, after rising 0.3% in March. Food prices rose 1.8% from a year earlier.

Excluding the more volatile food and energy components, so-called core consumer prices rose 0.1% for a third month in a row.

"The indexes for shelter, medical care, education, and new vehicles all rose in April," the Labor Department’s monthly report noted. "The indexes for used cars and trucks, apparel, and household furnishings and operations were among those that declined over the month."

Shelter or housing costs advanced 0.4% for a second consecutive month following fourth straight monthly 0.3% gains, while their year-over-year level remained at 3.4%. Components of shelter include pricing items like rent for apartments, rental equivalence, lodging away from home such as hotels and motels, and housing at schools. The index accounts for about one-third of the entire CPI.

"The Fed tells us it’s transitory, but there’s persistent softness going on that we have to remain watchful of," Bloomberg News quoted Stephen Gallagher, chief U.S. economist at Societe Generale SA. On the declines in used-car and apparel prices, "both of these are thought to be transitory, but they’re still weighing pretty heavily on the core readings and an outcome is the core reading is pretty low."

Used car and truck prices fell for a third month in a row, down 1.3% in April, and clothing costs dropped for a second straight month, down 0.8% in April.

In the headline figure, U.S. inflation grew 2.0% in the 12 months ending April, a larger increase than the 1.9% advance in March. As recently as February, annual inflation at 1.5% registered as the lowest rate since September 2016.

Core inflation rose 2.1% from a year earlier after rising 2.0% in the 12 months ending April– the lowest core rate since February 2018. This index of "all items less food and energy" 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.

The following table of key inflation figures is for the last nine months through April, as published by the U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov/cpi) on May 10, 2019. 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.

October 2018 to April 2019 Consumer Prices – Gains & Losses in Percent

  Sept 2018 Oct 2018 Nov 2018 Dec 2018 Jan 2019 Feb 2019 Mar 2019 Apr 2019 12 Month
All items 0.1 0.3 .0 .0 .0 0.2 0.4 0.3 2.0
  Food 0.1 .0 0.2 0.3 0.2 0.4 0.3 -0.1 1.8
    Food at home -0.1 -0.1 0.1 0.3 0.1 0.4 0.4 -0.5 0.7
    Food away from home 0.2 0.1 0.3 0.4 0.3 0.4 0.2 0.3 3.1
  Energy -1.0 2.1 -2.8 -2.6 -3.1 0.4 3.5 2.9 1.7
    Energy commodities -1.1 2.6 -5.0 -5.7 -5.3 1.5 6.2 5.4 2.9
      Gasoline (all types) -1.2 2.7 -5.2 -5.8 -5.5 1.5 6.5 5.7 3.1
      Fuel oil -0.7 3.2 -2.9 -9.4 -1.3 2.6 2.1 1.3 -0.9
    Energy services -0.9 1.3 0.2 1.5 -0.5 -0.8 0.3 -0.1 .0
      Electricity -0.7 1.8 0.2 0.4 -0.6 -0.3 0.4 .0 0.6
      Utility (piped) gas service -1.5 -0.5 0.2 5.1 -0.3 -2.4 -0.1 -0.8 -1.9
  All items less food, energy 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.1 0.1 0.1 2.1
    Commodities less food, energy -0.1 0.3 0.2 .0 0.4 -0.2 -0.2 -0.3 -0.2
      New vehicles .0 -0.2 .0 .0 0.2 -0.2 0.4 0.1 1.2
      Used cars and trucks -2.1 2.5 2.5 -0.5 0.1 -0.7 -0.4 -1.3 0.8
      Apparel 0.9 0.2 -0.6 .0 1.1 0.3 -1.9 -0.8 -3.0
      Medical care -0.2 -0.1 0.5 -0.4 0.1 -1.0 0.4 0.9 0.2
    Services less energy 0.3 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.3 0.3 2.8
      Shelter 0.2 0.2 0.3 0.3 0.3 0.3 0.4 0.4 3.4
      Transportation 0.5 0.1 .0 -0.1 -0.2 -0.1 .0 0.1 1.1
      Medical care 0.3 0.2 0.4 0.4 0.3 .0 0.3 0.2 2.3

 

The BLS tends to release inflation data around the middle of a month based on consumer prices surveyed in the previous month. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) for May and the latest annual period become public on June 12, 2019.

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

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