AP News

Ahead of the Bell: US Wholesale Prices

WASHINGTON (AP) — Cheaper gas likely drove down a measure of U.S. wholesale prices in November, keeping inflation mild.

Economists forecast that the producer price index fell 0.5 percent last month, according to a survey by FactSet, after falling 0.2 percent in October. The Labor Department will release the report at 8:30 a.m. EST Thursday.

Gas prices rose sharply over the summer, pushing up both the producer and consumer price indexes. But since then, the cost of gasoline, home heating oil and natural gas has fallen back.

Nationwide, a cost of a gallon of gasoline fell to $3.32 Wednesday, according to AAA, down 13 cents in the past month and nearly 50 cents since mid-October.

Excluding the volatile food and gasoline categories, wholesale prices likely rose only 0.2 percent in November, economists expect. So-called core prices fell 0.2 percent in October because of a sharp drop in the price of new cars and trucks.

In the 12 months ending in October, wholesale prices have risen just 2.3 percent. And core prices have increased just 2.1 percent.

Low inflation means consumers have more money to spend, which helps the economy. It also gives the Federal Reserve more room to keep interest rates low in an effort to spur economic growth. If prices were to begin rising rapidly, the central bank might be forced to raise rates in response.

The Fed said Wednesday that it now plans to keep the short-term interest rate it controls at nearly zero until the unemployment rate falls to at least 6.5 percent and inflation isn't expected to top 2.5 percent in the next two years.

In a statement, Fed policymakers said that they expect "inflation over the medium term will likely run at or below its 2 percent objective."

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