Higher US gas prices spark modest inflation in March
by Associated Press
WASHINGTON, D.C.Apr 17, 2015 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Associated Press
Apr 17, 2015 12:00 am
Rising gas prices in March led to a slight increase in inflation, a sign that some of the broader economic impact from cheaper oil is fading. The consumer price index rose 0.2 percent in March, the Labor Department said Friday. Inflation moved at that same pace in February, which ended three straight monthly declines caused largely by falling oil and gasoline prices.
Prices at the pump rose 3.9 percent in March, contributing along with other sectors to a small dose of inflation. Still, gas remains relatively cheap, falling roughly 33 percent over the past year to an average price of $2.41 a gallon, according to AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge. Primarily because of less expensive gas, consumer prices dipped 0.1 percent in the 12 months ended in March, meaning that more Americans have been able to conserve their spending. Annualized inflation will soon turn positive, said Stuart Hoffman chief economist at PNC Financial Services. "With energy prices stabilizing, inflation is no longer slowing," Hoffman said. Outside food and energy, core prices also rose 0.2 percent in March. The cost of clothes, housing, cars, and medical care increased, while food and airfare decreased. Core prices have risen 1.8 percent in the past year.
Several factors outside of gasoline suggest that inflation will likely continue to be subdued. The stronger dollar has slashed the cost of imported electronics, clothing and other items. The dollar has climbed in value against the euro and yen because the U.S. economy has experienced stronger growth than much of Europe and Japan. At the same time, average hourly wages have risen at an annual rate of just 2 percent, too low to cause a surge in consumer demand that would enable retailers to hike their prices. If gas prices hold steady, the annual inflation rate could begin to rise later this year. Economists are carefully monitoring the possibility that inflation reaches the Federal Reserve's target of 2 percent, a level deemed manageable enough to encourage consumer activity while keeping prices relatively stable and protecting against deflation. The March report is unlikely to have much impact, said Jennifer Lee, a senior economist at BMO Capital Markets.