U.S. Core Inflation Quickens; Consumer Prices In February Rise 0.1%

Higher food, shelter, vehicle, medical care and clothing prices drove up the U.S. cost of living in February, data released March 11 by the government showed, although lower gasoline prices helped in checking some of the overall inflation pressures.

In the longer haul, prices from a year earlier increased for a second time for both energy and food. Before then, year-over-year energy prices logged a string of seven straight declines while food prices rose.

U.S. consumer prices picked up 0.1% in February, matching the increase in January, the Labor Department said in its monthly report on the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The CPI is a broad measure of what Americans pay for everyday items ranging from eggs to electricity.

In key pricing categories:

  • Prices at the pump dropped 3.4% for the month as compared to the 1.6% decline in January. Gasoline prices jumped 5.6% from a year ago. The broader index for energy, which combines items like gasoline, electricity and fuel oil, fell 2% in February after falling 0.7% previously. Energy prices year-over-year increased 2.8%.

  • Overall prices for food climbed 0.4% after two consecutive 0.2% advances. Food prices increased 1.8% year-on-year.

Excluding the more volatile food and energy components, so-called core consumer prices rose 0.2% last month, the same increase as in January.

Shelter or housing costs increased 0.3% from 0.4%, while the year-over-year level logged in at 3.3%. 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.

In the headline annual figure, U.S. inflation increased 2.3% in February from 2.5% in the 12 months ending January, which was the quickest inflation rate since the period ending October 2018.

Core inflation grew 2.4% over the last 12 months compared to the core rates of 2.3% in each of the four prior months. This core, "all items less food and energy" index 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 seven months through January, as published by the U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov/cpi) on March 11, 2020. 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 2019 to February 2020 Consumer Prices – Gains & Losses in Percent

  Aug 2019 Sept 2019 Oct 2019 Nov 2019 Dec 2019 Jan 2020 Feb 2020 12 Month
All items 0.1 0.1 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.1 0.1 2.3
  Food .0 0.2 0.2 0.1 0.2 0.2 0.4 1.8
    Food at home -0.1 0.1 0.2 0.1 .0 0.1 0.5 0.8
    Food away from home 0.2 0.3 0.2 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.2 3.0
  Energy -1.4 -0.8 1.7 0.8 1.6 -0.7 -2.0 2.8
    Energy commodities -2.3 -1.5 2.6 1.2 3.0 -1.6 -3.5 5.0
      Gasoline (all types) -2.4 -1.5 2.7 1.2 3.1 -1.6 -3.4 5.6
      Fuel oil -0.9 -0.6 1.1 1.0 1.1 -0.4 -8.5 -5.9
    Energy services -0.2 0.1 0.7 0.2 -0.2 0.6 -0.3 .0
      Electricity -0.2 0.2 0.6 0.2 -0.2 0.4 -0.1 0.6
      Utility (piped) gas service .0 -0.2 1.2 0.5 -0.5 1.0 -0.9 -2.0
  All items less food, energy 0.2 0.2 0.1 0.2 0.1 0.2 0.2 2.4
    Commodities less food, energy 0.1 .0 -0.4 -0.1 .0 .0 0.2 .0
      New vehicles -0.1 -0.1 -0.1 -0.1 0.1 .0 0.1 0.4
      Used cars and trucks 0.5 0.6 -1.2 -0.7 -0.4 -1.2 0.4 -1.3
      Apparel 0.1 -0.3 -1.7 0.6 0.1 0.7 0.4 -0.9
      Medical care 0.2 -0.1 1.0 .0 1.0 -0.6 -0.6 1.8
    Services less energy 0.3 0.2 0.3 0.3 0.2 0.3 0.2 3.1
      Shelter 0.2 0.3 0.1 0.3 0.2 0.4 0.3 3.3
      Transportation 0.3 0.2 0.1 .0 -0.1 0.3 0.3 1.2
      Medical care 0.7 0.4 0.8 0.4 0.3 0.3 0.3 5.3

 

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 February and the latest annual period become public on April 10, 2020.

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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