Consumer Prices in U.S. Fall, Led by Slump in Commodities

  • Excluding food and fuel, prices rose least in four months
  • Core restrained by falling prices for clothing, air fares

U.S. Consumer Prices Fall on Commodities Slump

The cost of living in the U.S. dropped in December, led by a slump in commodities that’s roiling global markets.

The consumer-price index declined 0.1 percent after being little changed in November, a Labor Department report showed Wednesday. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for a 0.1 percent increase. Excluding food and fuel, the so-called core index rose 0.1 percent, less than forecast and the smallest gain in four months.

The unabated plunge in energy prices has kept inflation under wraps even as a tighter labor market provides impetus for a pickup in wage growth. Federal Reserve officials are betting prices will accelerate as they consider further increases in the benchmark interest rate.

There’s “ongoing downward pressure on goods prices stemming from lower oil and global headwinds,” said Harm Bandholz, chief U.S. economist at UniCredit Bank AG in New York. 

Core consumer prices were projected to rise 0.2 percent according to the median forecast in the Bloomberg survey of economists. Estimates ranged from little changed to a 0.3 percent advance.

For all of 2015, consumer prices climbed 0.7 percent after rising 0.8 percent in 2014. It was the smallest advance since 2008.

Core Rate

Excluding food and energy, they rose 2.1 percent last year following a 1.6 percent increase in 2014.

Energy costs decreased 2.4 percent in December, capping a 12.6 percent drop for all of 2015, the report showed. Food costs decreased 0.2 percent last month compared with November.

The advance in the core index was restrained by declining prices for clothing, airline fares, hotel room rates and new cars. Rent increases also moderated.

Energy prices continue to slide, helping to support consumer buying power. The average cost of a gallon of regular gasoline was $1.88 on Jan. 18, the cheapest in almost seven years, according to AAA, the biggest U.S. auto group. That compares with an average $2.40 in 2015.

Fed’s View

Fed officials, who raised the benchmark interest rate in December for the first time since 2006, are pinning plans for further increases in part on a rebound in inflation. The central bank’s preferred price-growth gauge is the Commerce Department’s personal consumption expenditures measure, which hasn’t met the Fed’s 2 percent goal since April 2012.

The CPI is the broadest of three price gauges from the Labor Department because it includes all goods and services. About 60 percent of the index covers prices consumers pay for services from medical visits to airline fares, movie tickets and rents.

The Labor Department’s gauge of wholesale prices, which includes 75 percent of all U.S. goods and services, decreased 0.2 percent in December. A separate report showed the cost of imported goods fell 1.2 percent last month, the biggest decrease since August.

(Updates with economist comment in fourth paragraph.)

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