March 4th, 2024

Wholesale inflation in US slowed further last month, signaling that price pressures continue to ease

By Paul Wiseman, The Associated Press on December 13, 2023.

The Shell Ethane Cracker Plant on the Monongahela River in Monaca, Pa., is shown on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023. The plant uses low-cost ethane from shale gas to produce polyethylene. On Wednesday, the Labor Department releases producer prices data for November. The producer price index is an indicator measuring inflation at the wholesale level, hitting businesses before they pass costs along to consumers. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Wholesale inflation in the United States was unchanged in November, suggesting that price increases in the economy’s pipeline are continuing to gradually ease.

The Labor Department reported Wednesday that its producer price index – which tracks inflation before it reaches consumers – was flat from October to November after having fallen 0.4% the month before. Measured year over year, producer prices rose just 0.9% from November 2022, the smallest such rise since June. Excluding volatile food and energy costs, so-called core wholesale prices were unchanged from October and up 1.1% from a year ago.

Wednesday’s report reinforced the belief that inflation pressures are cooling across the economy, including among wholesale producers. The figures the government issued Wednesday, which reflect prices charged by manufacturers, farmers and wholesalers, can provide an early sign of how fast consumer inflation will rise in the coming months.

Year-over-year producer price inflation has slowed more or less steadily since peaking at 11.7% in March 2022. That is the month when the Federal Reserve began raising its benchmark interest rate to try to slow accelerating prices. Since then, the Fed has raised the rate 11 times, from near zero to about 5.4%, the highest level in 22 years.

The Fed is expected later Wednesday to announce, after its latest policy meeting, that it’s leaving its benchmark rate unchanged for the third straight meeting. Most economists believe the Fed is done raising rates and expect the central bank to start reducing rates sometime next year.

On Tuesday, the Labor Department reported that consumer prices rose just 0.1% last month from October and 3.1% from a year earlier. But core prices, which the Fed sees as a better indicator of future inflation, were stickier, rising 0.3% from October and 4% from November 2022. Year-over-year consumer price inflation is down sharply from a four-decade high of 9.1% in June 2022 but is still above the Fed’s 2% target.

Despite widespread predictions that the Fed rate hikes would cause a recession, the U.S. economy and job market have remained surprisingly strong. That has raised hopes the Fed can pull off a so-called soft landing – raising rates enough to tame inflation without sending the economy into recession.

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