The United States' inflation headache continues to ease.
The consumer price index showed price gains slowing in November for the fifth straight month, hitting 7.1 percent from a year ago, which is down from 7.7 percent in October and a recent peak of 9.1 percent in June. The month-over-month rate also slowed significantly, rising 0.1 percent from October, compared to 0.4 percent the month before.
In addition, core inflation, which excludes volatile food and energy costs, increased 0.2 percent, the lowest rate in over six months.
Driving the moderation were several categories that actually turned negative last month:
- Energy prices fell 1.6 percent
- Used cars and trucks fell 2.9 percent
- Transportation services fell 0.1 percent
- Medical care services fell 0.7 percent
Several other categories continued to rise, but at a slower rate:
- Shelter costs rose 0.6 percent, compared to 0.8 percent last month
- Food costs rose 0.5 percent, compared to 0.6 percent
- Food away from home rose 0.5 percent, compared to 0.9 percent
The report largely affirmed economists' predictions. Now the big question is whether or not the slowing is enough for the Fed to accelerate its planned moderation in rate hikes.
“All the signs have been pointing toward slower inflation, and now we have the confirmation," said David Russell, vice president of market intelligence for TradeStation Group. "Jerome Powell spoke of a downside in goods, and that's now pushing CPI downward. This is a good sign for the market but isn't likely to change the Fed's outlook much. They're still worried about high wages and housing costs. It's not clear wages will drop but faster-moving data suggests shelter is already moderating.”
In other words, as inflation in goods continues to slow, the Fed could place more emphasis on the tight labor market — which the central bank correlates with high prices.
On the upside, Russell noted that the November CPI report increases the odds that the U.S. economy is on track for a smooth transition out of its recent inflationary doldrums.
“Today's report suggests we're on the road to a soft landing," he said. "The Fed will keep talking tough and probably inch up the dot plot tomorrow. But we seem to have turned a corner on inflation. Santa could be coming to town this year."