Bidenflation Resurgent: Consumer Prices Rising Faster Than Expected

American households were hit with a second month of rapidly rising prices in February, undermining the Biden administration’s claims that its policies were reducing inflation and dampening hopes for a Fed rate cut in the next few months.

The consumer price index rose 0.4 percent in February,  faster than the January increase and the fourth consecutive monthly increase. Compared with 12 months earlier, the headline index is up 3.2 percent, a larger increase than the 3.1 percent annual gain recorded in January.

Economists had forecast a 0.4 percent increase in the month-t0-month figure but thought the annual figure would come in a tick lower at 3.1 percent.

The Federal Reserve has said that it is looking for data to give it more confidence that inflation is coming down to two percent. The rise of inflation in February casts doubt on the idea that the pace of price increases will continue to decline. The data make it more likely that Fed officials will hold off on cutting rates until this summer and possibly longer.

The core consumer price index, which excludes volatile food and energy prices, rose by 0.4 percent. That matched the January figure and exceeded the consensus forecast for a decline to 0.3 percent. Compared with a year ago, core prices are up 3.8 percent. That is lower than January’s 3.9 percent but above the forecast for 3.7 percent.

Core services prices, which exclude energy related services, rose 0.5 percent. That matched expectations and was lower than the 0.7 percent recorded in January. For the year, core services prices are up 5.2 percent.

Core goods prices had been declining last year, holding down overall inflation. The index of goods excluding food and energy fell on a month-to-month basis from June through January. In February, however, core goods prices rose 0.1 percent. That was not forecast by most analysts. Compared with a year ago, goods prices are down 0.3 percent.

The second straight month of 0.4 percent core inflation suggests that the January shift higher was not an anomaly but a sign that underlying inflationary pressures remain strong.

One silver lining of the report is that food prices were flat for the month. Grocery prices were unchanged after rising by a very hot 0.4 percent in January. Restaurant prices edged up 0.1 percent, a slowdown from the 0.5 percent increase in January.

Fed chair Jerome Powell has mentioned that he pays attention to a slice of the index that has come to be called “supercore” inflation: core services excluding shelter. This rose 0.5 percent (0.47 percent unrounded), down from 0.85 percent in January but still likely too high to give much comfort to Powell.

Housing prices rose at a rapid pace, pushing the shelter index up 0.4 percent for the month and 5.7 percent compared with a year ago. This was, however, a slowdown from the 0.6 percent rise in January. Rent inflation accelerated to 0.5 percent from 0.4 percent while a measure called “owners equivalent of rent” slowed to 0.4 percent from 0.6 percent.

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