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Inflation continues to rise in February, posing dilemma for the Federal Reserve

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Article

Inflationary pressures persisted in February, with the consumer price index (CPI) rising by 0.4% for the month and 3.2% from a year ago

Inflation continues to rise: ©Tiko - stock.adobe.com

Inflation continues to rise: ©Tiko - stock.adobe.com

Inflationary pressures persisted in February, with the consumer price index (CPI) rising by 0.4% for the month and 3.2% from a year ago, according to the latest report from the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. The data has maintained the Federal Reserve's cautious approach, indicating that interest rate cuts may not be on the horizon until at least the summer.

While the monthly gain aligned with expectations, the annual rate slightly exceeded the 3.1% forecast from the Dow Jones consensus. Excluding volatile food and energy prices, the core CPI also saw a 0.4% increase for the month and a 3.8% rise on a yearly basis, both exceeding forecasts by one-tenth of a percentage point.

A significant contributor to the headline inflation number was the 2.3% increase in energy costs, with gasoline prices surging by 3.8% during the month. Shelter costs rose by 0.4%, while food prices remained flat. Medical care services recorded a marginal decrease of 0.1% for the month but were up by 1.1% compared to the same period last year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics highlighted that increases in energy and shelter constituted over 60% of the total gain.

Other notable contributors to inflation included a 3.6% increase in airline fares, a 0.6% rise in apparel prices, and a 0.5% uptick in used vehicle costs.

Despite the 12-month pace being below the peak seen in mid-2022, it remains well above the Federal Reserve's 2% target. Fed officials have indicated that rate cuts are likely later this year, emphasizing the need for "greater confidence" that inflation is moving back toward the target.

Shelter costs, representing about one-third of the CPI weighting, have been slow to decelerate, prompting concerns among policymakers. While the Fed anticipates a decline in rental prices throughout the year, the persistence of inflationary pressures raises questions about the durability of the economic recovery and the appropriate timing for monetary policy adjustments.

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