Consumer prices rise sharply in May
Paul Davidson, USA TODAY 9:58 a.m. EDT June 17, 2014
Consumer prices last month posted their sharpest increase in 15 months as inflation continued a recent acceleration from unusually low levels.
The consumer price index jumped 0.4% after rising 0.3% in April, the Labor Department said Tuesday. Economists had expected a 0.2% increase.
Over the past 12 months, prices have increased 2.1%.
Core inflation, which excludes the volatile food and energy categories, was up 0.3% last month the most since August 2011.
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The rise in prices was broad-based, with food, energy, housing, apparel and other costs among those increasing. Food costs jumped 0.5%, the largest increase since August 2011, as meat, poultry fish and eggs rose 1.4% and fruits and vegetables rose 1.1%. Those categories have been rising for months, in part because of a drought in California, historically thin cattle herds and a virus in the pork population.
Energy costs also surged, with gasoline prices rising 0.7% and electricity costs increasing 2.3%.
But prices for goods other than food and energy also were up. Airline fares jumped 5.8%, the largest increase in 15 years. Apparel prices and housing costs both rose 0.3%. And an index of medical care costs increased 0.3% as prescription drug prices surged 0.7%.
Last week, Labor said that wholesale prices fell in May for the first time in three months.
The recent pick-up in consumer prices is generally considered good news for the economy because annual inflation was well below the Federal Reserve's 2% target last year. Low inflation reflects a weak economy and can lead to deflation, or falling wages and prices, which often foreshadows recession.
The unusually sharp rise in inflation last month could help prompt the Fed to begin to raise interest rates earlier in 2015 than expected or to increase rates more rapidly, especially if significant price increases continue. The Fed is meeting today and Wednesday.
"The chances that (the Fed) will raise interest rates before the middle of next year are increasing," economist Paul Dales of Capital Economics said in a research note Tuesday.