Inflation Rate at Acceptable Fed Levels in February

The report from the Labour Department today also showed benign underlying inflation last month. — Reuters pic

Retail inflation climbs to 2.57%, factory output decelerates to 1.7%

India's industrial output growth stood at 1.7 per cent in January, mainly on account of slowdown in the manufacturing sector, while retail inflation rose to a three-month high of 2.57 per cent in February.

The low level of inflation also gives the Federal Reserve more flexibility in holding off on further increases to a key short-term interest rate, enabling the USA central bank to provide support for economic growth.

Driven by higher food prices, the retail inflation rose to four-month high of 2.57 per cent in February, according to latest report on the inflation rate.

A key measure of underlying USA inflation unexpectedly eased in February amid falling prices for autos and prescription drugs, giving the Federal Reserve more room to stick to its plan for being patient on raising interest rates. The headline CPI was up 1.5% from a year ago, and the core CPI was up 2.1% versus a year ago. The broader CPI rose 0.2 percent from January, the first increase in four months, though the 1.5 percent annual gain missed projections and was the smallest rise since 2016.

However, weakening fuel prices masked increases in the costs for food and shelter, medical care, according to the Labor Department report. The January PCE price data will be released on March 19 after being delayed by a 35-day partial shutdown of the federal government that ended on Jan. 25. That meant the average weekly paycheck, adjusted for inflation, declined 0.1% from January even though hourly wages rose. Core prices were up 2.1% on the year, a pace last matched in October.

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The Commerce Department's price index for personal-consumption expenditures rose 0.1% on the month in December and was up 1.7% from a year earlier-shy of the Fed's 2% year-over-year target.

A New York Fed survey of consumer expectations published on Monday showed a drop in inflation expectations in February.

Monthly inflation was 0.2 percent compared last month to January after being flat for three months, matching economists' expectations. "The weaker print can be traced to a drop in core goods prices, which fell 0.2%". The central bank also changed its policy stance from "calibrated tightening" to "neutral". Annual wage growth jumped 3.4% in February, the biggest increase since April 2009, from 3.1% in January. Healthcare costs were held down by a record 1.0 percent decline in the price of prescription medication and a 0.7 percent drop in the cost of hospital services.

But consumers got some relief from healthcare costs, which fell 0.2 percent after five straight monthly increases.

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