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A measure of the U.S. cost of living was unchanged in April, restrained by a drop in energy prices and supporting the view of some Federal Reserve policy makers that inflation will ease.
Last month’s consumer-price index matched the median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News and followed three straight gains that included a 0.3 percent rise in March, Labor Department data showed today in Washington. The so-called core measure, which excludes more volatile food and energy costs, rose 0.2 percent for a second month.
Some companies are holding the line on prices as job growth shows signs of cooling, limiting wage gains. Slowing inflation would underscore views of some Fed officials who have said higher fuel costs will have only a temporary effect, allowing the central bank to stick to its plan to keep interest rates low at least until late 2014.
“There’s a lot of slack in the economy,” said Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James & Associates Inc. in St. Petersburg, Florida. Inflation is “sort of at the sweet spot as far as the Fed is concerned. The recovery is on track but it’s not especially strong.”
Retail sales rose in April at the slowest pace of the year, showing mild weather and early Easter shopping may have pulled consumers to stores in the previous month, according to other data today. The 0.1 percent gain followed a 0.7 percent increase in March, Commerce Department figures showed.
Stock-index futures held earlier gains after the reports. The contract on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index maturing in June rose 0.7 percent to 1,343.5 at 8:41 a.m. in New York as economic growth in Germany helped the euro area avoid its second recession in three years.
A separate Labor Department report showed average hourly earnings after adjusting for changes in prices were unchanged in April after a 0.1 percent decrease. Compared with the same month last year, real earnings fell 0.5 percent.
Estimates from the 80 economists surveyed ranged from a decrease of 0.1 percent to a 0.3 percent advance.
Consumer prices increased 2.3 percent in the 12 months ended in April, the smallest gain since February 2011, today’s report showed.
The gain in the core gauge from March matched the median forecast of economists surveyed. Core prices were also up 2.3 percent for the last 12 months, matching the year-over-year gain in March.
A 1.5 percent jump in the cost of used vehicle prices contributed to the gain in the core measure, as did increases in medical care services, transportation and apparel.
Today’s report showed energy costs decreased 1.7 percent from a month earlier, the most since October, after climbing 0.9 percent in March. Gasoline prices dropped 2.6 percent, also the most in six months. Food costs rose 0.2 percent for a second month.
“So far, pricing is in line with our expectations,” Hugh Johnston, chief financial officer at PepsiCo Inc. (PEP), said on May 10 at a consumer products presentation. “We feel good about the pricing we have right now.”
The cost of rent climbed 0.2 percent, today’s report showed.
Fed officials, who’ve said energy costs would subside, have indicated they will hold off on more monetary stimulus unless prices rise more slowly than their 2 percent target or the economic expansion falters. Their preferred price gauge, issued by the Commerce Department and tied to consumer spending, rose 2.1 percent in the year ended in March.
Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said on April 25 that a rise in gasoline prices “has created a temporary bulge” in inflation that’s likely to “pass through the system.”
Fuel prices have already started to recede. The cost of a gallon of regular gasoline at the pump eased to $3.73 on May 14 from a 10-month high of $3.94 reached on April 5, figures from AAA, the biggest U.S. auto group, show.
A Labor Department report last week showed the cost of imported goods dropped 0.5 percent in April, the most since June. Wholesale prices in April fell for the first time in four months, another Labor Department showed last week.
The CPI is the broadest of three price gauges because it includes goods and services. Almost 60 percent of the index covers prices consumers pay for services ranging from medical visits to airline fares, movie tickets and rents.
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