Consumer Inflation Remains Elusive — or Does It?

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That 2.0% to 2.5% inflation target of the Federal Reserve is just proving to be more than elusive. The U.S. Department of Labor has released its consumer price index (CPI) for July, and the monthly number was flat at 0.0%. The core CPI reading, which excludes food and energy, rose by only 0.1% on the monthly reading. It may seem there was no inflation at all, but there are some percolating numbers versus a year ago.

Bloomberg was calling for a 0.0% reading on the headline monthly CPI, as well as a 0.2% gain on the monthly core CPI reading.

Again, it was the annual numbers where you can find at least some inflation. The headline CPI was up 0.8% from July of 2015. The larger gain was in the core CPI reading, outside of food and energy, where July’s prices rose 2.2% from a year earlier.

Driving forces that held CPI back were a drop of 1.6% in the monthly energy prices, as well as flat pricing on food. Transportation-related costs were weak.

While not given much credit, we are seeing trends of lower airplane tickets, and all the apartment building in some metro areas has been enough that landlords are having to offer lower rent prices or big incentives that act like rent cuts — although housing and rent prices are up in the formal numbers. Medical costs rose 0.5% in the monthly reading, but they were up 4% versus a year earlier.

There are still pockets of inflation, but on a systemic basis the numbers just are not adding up to a high enough level for the Federal Reserve to feel a need to hike rates immediately. Even if they do raise rates, they just are not expected to (and likely cannot even if they want to) raise rates back to a normalized level from before the recession.