Rising health care costs power US consumer inflation

A report from the Labor Department on Wednesday showed broad price increases, with the cost of health care surging by the most. (Reuters)
Updated 13 November 2019

Rising health care costs power US consumer inflation

WASHINGTON: US consumer prices jumped by the most in seven months in October, which together with abating fears of a recession, support the Federal Reserve’s signal for no further interest rate cuts in the near term.

The report from the Labor Department on Wednesday showed broad price increases, with the cost of health care surging by the most in more than three years and recreation posting its biggest increase since early 1996.

The US central bank last month cut rates for the third time this year and signaled a pause in the easing cycle that started in July when it reduced borrowing costs for the first time since 2008. Firming inflation comes on the heels of fairly upbeat data, including better-than-expected job growth in October and an acceleration in services sector activity.

There has also been a de-escalation of trade tensions between the US and China. President Donald Trump on Tuesday said Washington was close to signing a “phase one” trade deal with Beijing, but provided no new details.

“Barring a sharp slowdown in economic activity, that supports the Fed’s stance of leaving interest rates on hold for an extended period,” said Michael Pearce, a senior US economist at Capital Economics in New York.

The consumer price index (CPI) increased 0.4 percent last month as households paid more for energy products, healthcare, food and a range of other goods. That was the largest gain in the CPI since March and followed an unchanged reading in September.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Consumer price index (CPI) increases 0.4 percent in October.

• CPI advances 1.8 percent year-on-year.

• Core CPI rises 0.2 percent; up 2.3 percent year-on-year.

In the 12 months through October, the CPI increased 1.8 percent after climbing 1.7 percent in September.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the CPI advancing 0.3 percent in October and gaining 1.7 percent on a year-on-year basis.

Excluding the volatile food and energy components, the CPI rose 0.2 percent after edging up 0.1 percent in September. The so-called core CPI was lifted by the strong health care costs and increases in prices of used cars and trucks and recreation and rents.

In the 12 months through October, the core CPI increased 2.3 percent after rising 2.4 percent in September.

The Fed tracks the core personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index for its 2 percent inflation target. The core PCE price index rose 1.7 percent on a year-on-year basis in September and has fallen short of its target this year.

The dollar rose against a basket of currencies on the data, while US Treasury prices rose marginally. US stock index futures extended losses. 

Gasoline prices rebound 

October’s firmer monthly CPI reading and jump in healthcare costs suggest a pick-up in the core PCE price index last month. The core PCE price data will be published later this month.

In October, energy prices vaulted 2.7 percent after falling 1.4 percent in the prior month. Energy prices, which were also driven by more expensive electricity, accounted for more than half of the increase in the CPI last month.

Gasoline prices rebounded 3.7 percent after declining 2.4 percent in September. Food prices climbed 0.2 percent, rising for a second straight month. Food consumed at home gained 0.3 percent.

Owners’ equivalent rent of primary residence, which is what a homeowner would pay to rent or receive from renting a home, climbed 0.2 percent in October after rising 0.3 percent in September. But other shelter categories softened last month. The cost of hotel and motel accommodation dropped 3.8 percent. As a result, the rent index edged up 0.1 percent last month, the smallest gain since April 2011.

Health care costs surged 1 percent last month, the most since August 2016, after climbing 0.2 percent in September. Health care costs were boosted by strong increases in the costs of hospital services and prescription medication.

Used motor vehicles and trucks prices increased 1.3 percent after decreasing 1.6 percent in September. The cost of recreation surged 0.7 percent, the largest increase since February 1996. Households also paid more for personal care products.

But they got some respite from apparel prices, which fell 1.8 percent after dropping 0.4 percent in the prior month. The government early this year introduced a new method and data to calculate the cost of apparel.

Prices for new motor vehicles declined for a fourth straight month. There were also decreases in the costs of household furnishings and airline fares.


Britain’s grocery sales lack festive spirit

Updated 42 min 6 sec ago

Britain’s grocery sales lack festive spirit

  • Sales of popular Christmas food purchases are down compared with last year

LONDON: Sales growth at Britain’s supermarkets slowed in the last quarter, industry data showed on Tuesday, as shoppers delayed their festive season preparations ahead of a national election on Dec. 12. 

Market researcher Kantar said all of Britain’s big four supermarket groups — market leader Tesco, Sainsbury’s , Asda and Morrisons — recorded sales declines over the period and lost market share to the German-owned discounters Aldi and Lidl which are aggressively opening new stores. Kantar said total British grocery sales rose 0.5 percent year-on-year in the 12 weeks to Dec. 1, having increased 1 percent in its November data set. 

“We’re yet to see consumers ramp up their spending in the run up to Christmas and, as anticipated, Black Friday only brought a limited boost for the grocers,” said Fraser McKevitt, head of retail and consumer insight at Kantar. 

“With the general election now only days away, people are waiting to fill their cupboards for the festive break,” he said, noting, for example, that sales of Christmas puddings and seasonal biscuits are down 16 percent and 12 percent in the past four weeks, compared with this time last year. Kantar said sales at Tesco fell 0.8 percent over the period, while Sainsbury’s, Asda, and Morrisons saw sales declines of 1.1 percent, 1.9 percent and 2.9 percent respectively. 

In contrast Aldi’s sales were up 6.2 percent and Lidl’s rose 9.3 percent, giving a combined market share of 14.1 percent. 

“While the big four all lost share in the past 12 weeks, 98 percent of the British public still visited at least one of their stores during the past three months,” said McKevitt. “Based on previous years, we expect them to increase their proportion of sales in the coming weeks as shoppers turn to familiar favourites and the traditional retailers in December.” 

Kantar said it was too early to say if Tesco’s new “Clubcard Plus” loyalty subscription scheme, launched last month, has had an impact on sales. Shares in Britain’s big supermarket chain were all down in early trade in London.