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Economy in Brief

CPI Gain The Strongest Since October
by Tom Moeller March 23, 2005

Consumer Prices (CPI-U) rose 0.4% in February, the strongest monthly increase since October and exceeded Consensus expectations for a 0.3% rise.

A 0.3% gain in prices less food & energy also was the firmest since last September and beat expectations for a 0.2% increase.

Services price inflation firmed slightly last month and caused the acceleration. Less energy, services prices rose 0.3% versus 0.2% gains during the prior four months. Shelter price inflation moved slightly higher to 0.3% (3.0% y/y) and medical care services prices ramped to a 0.6% (5.0% y/y) gain after four months at 0.4%. Public transportation prices were unchanged (-1.0% y/y) following two months of decline but school tuition rose 0.5% (6.5% y/y).

Goods prices less energy were unchanged (0.7% y/y) after a 0.3% January gain despite a 0.4% (5.0% y/y) increase in tobacco prices. New vehicle prices rose just 0.1% (1.1% y/y) while apparel prices (0.0% y/y) and furniture prices (0.3% y/y) both fell 0.2%. Personal computer prices also fell 3.6% (NSA, -15.6% y/y).

Energy prices moved up 2.0%. Gasoline prices rose 3.2% (14.7% y/y) last month and so far in March gasoline prices have moved roughly another 10% higher to $2.11 per gallon. Fuel oil prices rose 1.4% (21.5% y/y) and natural gas & electricity prices rose 0.8% (5.1% y/y).

Food prices rose 0.1% for the second month, the gain held back by another decline in fruit & vegetable prices (+2.3% y/y).

The chained CPI which adjusts for shifts in the mix of consumer purchases jumped 0.5%. Core chain prices also rose a strong 0.6%.

Consumer Price Index Feb Jan Y/Y 2004 2003 2002
Total  0.4% 0.1% 2.9% 2.7% 2.3% 1.6%
 Total less Food & Energy 0.3% 0.2% 2.3% 1.8% 1.5% 2.3%
  Goods less Food & Energy 0.0% 0.3% 0.7% -0.9% -2.0% -1.1%
  Services less Energy 0.3% 0.2% 2.9% 2.8% 2.9% 3.8%
 Energy 2.0% -1.1% 10.3% 10.9% 12.2% -5.9%
 Food 0.1% 0.1% 2.6% 3.4% 2.1% 1.8%
             
Chained CPI: Total (NSA) 0.5% 0.2% 2.6% 2.3% 2.0% 1.3%
 Total less Food & Energy 0.6% 0.2% 2.0% 1.5% 1.1% 1.9%
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