Loveland Reporter-Herald

Inflation slows to 6.4% in U.S.

- By Christophe­r Rugaber

WASHINGTON >> The pace of consumer price increases eased again in January compared with a year earlier, the latest sign that the high inflation that has gripped Americans for nearly two years is slowly easing.

At the same time, Tuesday’s consumer price report from the government showed that inflationa­ry pressures in the U.S. economy remain stubborn and are likely to keep prices elevated well into this year. Rising costs will also keep pressure on the Federal Reserve to raise its benchmark interest rate further and to keep it there through year’s end.

Consumer prices climbed 6.4% in January from a year earlier, down from 6.5% in December. It was the seventh straight yearover-year slowdown and well below a recent peak of 9.1% in June. Yet it remains far above the Federal Reserve’s 2% annual inflation target.

And on a monthly basis, consumer prices increased 0.5% from December to January, much higher than the 0.1% rise from November to December. More expensive gas, food and clothing drove up last month’s figure.

The data show that while inflation is fading, it is likely to do so slowly and unevenly. The government also incorporat­ed annual revisions of its methods into January’s inflation report, which caused monthly increases in the final three months of last year to be higher than originally reported. Combined with January’s price figures, the slowdown in inflation since the fall is now more gradual than it seemed just a few weeks ago.

Excluding volatile food and energy costs, so-called “core” prices increased 0.4% last month, up from 0.3% in December. Core prices rose 5.6% from a year ago, down just a tick from December’s 5.7%.

In the past three months, core prices have risen at a 4.6% annual rate, which is below the year-overyear number and suggests that more declines are coming. But that figure is up from 4.3% in December.

“These things never happen in a straight line,” said Tiffany Wilding, an economist at PIMCO, an asset management firm. “But I

think the overall balance of evidence suggests that we are starting to see inflation move in the right direction.”

Fed Chair Jerome Powell said last week that the “process of getting inflation down has begun.”

But “this process is likely to take quite a bit of time,” he added. “It’s not going to be, we don’t think, smooth, it’s probably going to be bumpy.”

The Fed has aggressive­ly raised its benchmark interest rate in the past year to its highest level in 15 years in its drive to get rampaging inflation under control. The Fed’s goal is to slow borrowing and spending, cool the pace of hiring and relieve the pressure many businesses feel to raise wages to find or keep workers. Businesses typically pass their higher labor costs on to their customers in the form of higher prices, thereby helping fuel inflation.

So far, most of the slowdown in inflation reflects freer-flowing supply chains and earlier declines in gas prices. Those factors have sharply reduced inflation in goods, including cars, furniture and toys. Overall core goods prices ticked up just 0.1% in January, after declining for three months.

Furniture prices were unchanged in January for a second straight month and are up just 2.2% from a year ago. Average new car prices rose just 0.2% last month, though they’re still 5.8% more than last January.

Used car prices, which had soared in 2021 and early last year amid widespread supply disruption­s, dropped 1.9% last month, the seventh straight decline. They’re now 11.9% lower than they were a year ago.

Gas prices rose 2.4% in January, the government said, with prices averaging $3.50 a gallon nationwide by the end of last month. Prices at the pump have since dropped back to $3.41 as of Tuesday, according to AAA.

Food prices jumped 0.5% from December to January, defying hopes for a smaller increase. Cereals and bread products became costlier. And egg prices jumped 8.5% just in January and have skyrockete­d 70% in the past year. Those prices have been driven up by more expensive feed and an avian flu epidemic that has devastated chicken flocks.

Though goods prices across the economy have come down, services costs, including housing, remain chronicall­y high. Rental costs jumped again in January, up 0.7%, and are 8.6% more than a year ago.

Housing costs account for fully 2.75 percentage points of the 6.4% yearly inflation increase, according to calculatio­ns by Eric Winograd, an economist at Alliancebe­rnstein. But Powell and other economists expect housing costs to start declining by the middle of this year. Market rates for new rental leases have been easing since fall

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