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Consumer prices surge, chances for interest rate cut fall


12-month inflation rate hits 3.5%, exceeding expectations

Inflation on the rise: ©Cagkan -

Inflation on the rise: ©Cagkan -

The consumer price index (CPI) surged at a faster-than-expected pace in March, sending inflation soaring and dimming prospects for imminent interest rate cuts by the Federal Reserve. The latest data released by the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics has rattled markets and sparked concerns about the trajectory of monetary policy.

According to the report, the CPI, a key measure of goods and services costs across the economy, rose by 0.4% for the month, surpassing economists' forecasts. This uptick propelled the 12-month inflation rate to 3.5%, marking a 0.3 percentage point increase from February and exceeding expectations. The core CPI, which excludes volatile food and energy components, also accelerated by 0.4% on a monthly basis and rose 3.8% from a year ago, further highlighting the inflationary pressures.

The surge in consumer prices was primarily driven by escalating shelter and energy costs. Energy prices climbed by 1.1% following a previous increase of 2.3% in February, while shelter costs, which carry significant weight in the CPI, rose by 0.4% on the month and surged by 5.7% from a year earlier. Medical care services increased 0.6% for the month, and are up 2.1% year over year, while medical care commodities rose 0.2% for the month and 2.5% from a year ago.

While food prices saw a modest increase of 0.1% on the month, certain categories witnessed fluctuations. The prices of meat, fish, poultry, and eggs surged by 0.9%, fueled by a significant 4.6% jump in egg prices. However, prices for butter and cereal and bakery products experienced declines.

Amidst the inflationary surge, workers faced stagnant real average hourly earnings, which remained flat on the month and saw a 0.6% increase over the past year, according to separate BLS data.

The report has cast a shadow over hopes for rate cuts by the Federal Reserve, according to economists. Markets had previously anticipated rate reductions starting as early as June, but the likelihood of such moves has diminished considerably following the CPI data release. Traders in the fed funds futures market have pushed expectations for the first rate cut out to September, signaling a shift in sentiment.

Federal Reserve officials have reiterated their stance on exercising patience with regard to monetary policy adjustments. The March report has reinforced concerns that inflation might prove to be more persistent than anticipated, further complicating the central bank's decision-making process. Recent remarks from Fed officials indicate skepticism about the necessity for rate cuts, with some even suggesting the possibility of rate hikes if economic data does not align with expectations.

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