June Import and Export Prices Confirm Lower Inflation Versus Fed Targets

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The market has already seen lower-than-expected news on the consumer inflation front for June. Now the Labor Department is showing more confirmation of that news from its report on June’s import and export prices.

U.S. import prices declined by 0.2% in the month of June, following a 0.1% decrease in May. This matched the Bloomberg consensus estimate of -0.2% on the monthly reading. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, lower fuel prices drove the drop in June and this more than offset higher non-fuel prices in other categories.

The price index for U.S. exports also fell by 0.2% in June after a 0.5% decline reported for May. Bloomberg had projected that export prices would be flat for June’s report.

It is important to realize that import and export prices are just one component of the larger economic situation. The Federal Reserve and market observers have to rank this into monthly data along with more than a half-dozen other economic reports to get a fuller picture on inflation and the economy.

While the monthly numbers rarely look large, it is the annualized numbers that make up real inflation and which are used by the central bank for targeting their 2% to 2.5% inflation rates. Import prices were up 1.5% in June of 2017 compared with June of a year ago. Export prices year over year were only up by 0.6%.

Because so much of the imports and exports are around energy, the BLS data noted:

The main contributor to the drop was a 2.2% decline in petroleum prices. Natural gas prices also fell in June, decreasing 1%. Despite the recent drops, import fuel prices advanced 6.3% over the 12-month period ended in June. The import price index for petroleum increased 4.5% over the past year and natural gas prices rose 58.6%.

And on imports excluding fuel, the BLS said of June’s report:

Higher import prices for foods, feeds, and beverages and capital goods more than offset lower prices for automotive vehicles, consumer goods, and nonfuel industrial supplies and materials. Prices for nonfuel imports advanced 1% over the past 12 months and the index has not recorded a 12-month decline since a 0.2% decrease in November. Rising prices for nonfuel industrial supplies and materials and foods, feeds, and beverages more than offset decreasing prices for capital goods and automotive vehicles over the 12-month period ended in June. Consumer goods prices recorded no change over the past year.

China is often cited by market observers and politicians alike as one of the problems in the ongoing trade deficit. On the price front, prices from China are not altering the landscape any further. Import prices from China were shown to have dropped by 0.1% in June on the monthly reading, and they were down by 1% over the past 12 months. In fact, the BLS data showed that there has not been a 12-month increase in prices from China since a 0.1% gain back in October 2014.