WASHINGTON- US consumer prices increased for a fourth straight month in September, with the cost of cars and trucks rising by the most since 1969, but inflation is slowing amid excess capacity in the economy as it gradually recovers from the COVID-19 recession.
Though the benign report from the Labor Department on Tuesday will have no direct impact on monetary policy, it should allow the Federal Reserve to keep interest rates near zero for a while and continue with massive cash infusions as it nurses the economy back to health.
The US central bank is now more concerned about the labor market and has embraced flexible average inflation targeting, which in theory could see policymakers tolerate price increases above its 2 percent target for a period of perhaps several years to offset years in which inflation was lodged below its goal.
“Price gains are modest as supply chain disruptions have eased and weak demand and excess capacity in many parts of the economy have limited firms’ pricing power,” said Gus Faucher, chief economist at PNC in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “As long as inflation remains below 2 percent the Fed will keep providing stimulus to the economy.”
The consumer price index rose 0.2 percent last month after gaining 0.4 percent in August.
The CPI advanced 0.6 percent in both June and July after falling in the prior three months as business closures to slow the spread of the coronavirus weighed on demand.
A 6.7 percent jump in the prices of used cars and trucks again accounted for most of the increase in the CPI last month. That was the biggest gain since February 1969 and followed a 5.4 percent advance in August. The strong increases likely reflect a shortage of used motor vehicles amid an aversion to public transportation because of fears of contracting COVID-19.
New motor vehicle prices rose 0.3 percent. There were also increases in the costs of recreation. But prices for motor vehicle insurance, airline fares and apparel fell.
In the 12 months through September, the CPI increased 1.4 percent after rising 1.3 percent in August.
Last month’s inf lation readings were in line with economists’ expectations.
Excluding the volatile food and energy components, the CPI climbed 0.2 percent after rising 0.4 percent in August. The socalled core CPI gained 1.7 percent year-on-year, matching August’s increase.
The Fed’s preferred inflation measure, the core personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index rose 1.6 percent in the 12 months through August.
September’s core PCE price index data is scheduled to be released at the end of this month.