CPI Again Breaches 2% Inflation, at Least Selectively

Wednesday is a day that is supposed to marked by the decision on interest rates by Janet Yellen and the Federal Reserve. It turns out that the Fed got one last look at the key inflation reading before making their decision on rates.

The U.S. Labor Department released its Consumer Price Index (CPI) on Wednesday morning with a headline inflation reading of -0.2% on the monthly number for February 2016. Bloomberg had the consensus estimate at -0.3% and the range was said to be -0.3% to -0.1%.

Then there was a core inflation reading, excluding food and energy, which rose by 0.3%. Bloomberg was looking for a gain of 0.2%.

Where things get a little more complicated is when you move beyond the monthly readings and focus on the more important year-over-year data. The headline CPI rose 1.0% on an annualized basis in February, versus 1.4% in January.

Here is where the Fed will have enough ammunition to talk rates higher: the annualized core CPI, sans food and energy, was up 2.3% in February from a year ago. That is versus a 2.2% gain in January.

A couple of things are happening here. One is that the core rate is heading higher as the drop in monthly CPI data is starting to ease on the oil price pressure. There is, after all, only so low that a commodity price can theoretically go.

What matters is this 2.0% hurdle. The Fed wants 2.0% to 2.5% inflation. This is a bit of a sloppy read on it when you back out food and energy, considering that we need both to live and prosper. Still, that core reading is going to give more cover for the Fed’s hawkish presidents who are more interested in raising interest rates.

The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) decision is out at 2:00 pm Eastern Time, and their longer-term forecasts will be released shortly thereafter.

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