Inflation Rate at Acceptable Fed Levels in February

The U.S. Department of Labor has released its consumer price index (CPI) as being up 0.2% on the headline CPI reading and up just 0.1% excluding food and energy reading. Dow Jones was calling for a gain of 0.2% on both the headline and the core reading.

The annual changes are where economists get their annual inflation numbers. The headline CPI was up 1.5% from a year ago, and the core CPI was up 2.1% versus a year ago.

Gasoline prices increased by 1.5% on the monthly reading in February, but on a year-over-year basis they were down by 9.1%. Housing costs (or shelter) were up 3.4% from a year ago and the cost for school tuition and child care were up 3%.

While food prices were up just 0.4% from a year earlier, clothing prices were down 1.0% and new auto prices were down marginally. The energy sector costs in general were down 5% over the past year.

What matters here is that inflation has remained muted and is currently handily under that 2.0% to 2.5% range that has been within the Federal Reserve mandate with some slight changes over time. A solid job market, rising hourly wages and stronger gross domestic product haven’t forced prices up through the roof and likely will continue to offer some additional flexibility for the Fed to hold off on its quest to raise interest rates.

Major equity index futures were mixed and looking for direction on Tuesday morning —the S&P 500 and Nasdaq were up marginally, and the Dow were down marginally. This looks like a situation where the verdict of the day is not anywhere close to being decided.