Consumer Prices Rose Slightly In February, But Inflation Remains Tame

March 12, 2019 by Dan McCue
Frank Dubich, an economic assistant for the Bureau of Labor Statistics--Consumer Price Index, uses an electronic notepad to track prices and compile grocery data at a grocery in Garden Grove, California, August 6, 2007. (Michael Goulding/Orange County Register/MCT)

Consumer prices rose a slight 0.2 percent in February, the first increase in four months, but inflation remains tame, the Labor Department said Tuesday.

The latest consumer price index, which measures what Americans pay for a wide range of products, attributed the rise to higher gasoline prices and housing costs, though these were offset somewhat by declines in the cost of clothing and vehicles.

Gasoline prices rose 1.5 percent in February, but they were still 9.1 percent lower than a year earlier. Meanwhile housing prices continued to outpace inflation, rising 3.4 percent from a year earlier.

Also on the rise from a year earlier were the cost of tuition and child care, which climbed 3 percent during that period.

Rounding out the increases was the price of food, which bumped up 0.4 percent in February.

The increases were tempered by a 1 percent decline in the cost of clothing in February, and a 0.2 percent drop in new vehicle prices.

The modest overall rise snapped three consecutive months of flat readings.

The positive news in Tuesday’s report was that inflation remained a near nonfactor, rising only 1.9 percent in the past year.

The low level of inflation provides the Federal Reserve with a little more flexibility in holding off on further increases to a key short-term interest rate.

In an interview with CBS News’ “60 Minutes” program Sunday night Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said the Fed plans to be patient in deciding when to change rates again.

“Patient means that we don’t feel in any hurry to change our interest rate policy,” he said when asked to elaborate.

Later Powell said the Federal Reserve believes interest rates are at a “very good place right now” with the benchmark rate in a range of 2.25 percent to 2.5 percent.

“We think that’s an appropriate place for an economy that has the lowest unemployment in 50 years, that has inflation right about at our 2 percent objective, that has returned significantly to good health,” he said.

 

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