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.


China Pakistan Economic Corridor is a game-changer

Updated 14 August 2020

China Pakistan Economic Corridor is a game-changer

  • Project will strengthen bond between two countries who share history of good strategic relations

The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), presently under construction at a cost of $46 billion, aims to improve Pakistani infrastructure and deepen the economic and political ties between China and Pakistan.

CPEC is advantageous to Pakistan but also carries substantial economic and strategic benefits for China.

Its importance for China is evident from the fact that it is part of China’s 13th five-year development plan.

CPEC will boost ties between China and Pakistan, which share a history of congenial strategic relations, over a versatile canvass of mutual interest extending over six decades.

In the past 65 years, both countries have developed strong bilateral trade and economic collaboration.

China is Pakistan’s largest trading partner in imports and exports. And CPEC is going further to enhance the lucrative economic cooperation between the two countries.

If realized, the plan will be China’s biggest splurge on economic development in another country to date.

Consul Syed Hamzah Saleem Gilani

It aims over 15 years to create an economic corridor between Gwadar Port to China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang through the 2,700 km long highway from Kashgar to Gwadar, railway links for freight trains, oil and gas pipelines and an optical fiber link.

The project will create nearly 700,000 new jobs and add up to 2.5 percent to Pakistan’s annual growth rate.

CPEC has undeniable economic and strategic importance for Pakistan and China. It has been called a game-changer for Pakistan because it will link China with markets in Central Asia and South Asia. Presently China is some 13,000 km from the Arabian Gulf with a shipping time of about 45 days.

CPEC will shrink this distance to merely 2,500 km (an 80 percent reduction).

The shipping time will reduce to 10 days (a 78 percent reduction). The bulk of China’s trade is through the narrow sea channel of the Strait of Malacca.

Top security analysts say that in the event of a future war in Asia, the US Navy could block the Strait of Malacca, which would suffocate China’s trade route. CPEC, besides providing an alternate route, will reduce the shipping time from China to Europe.

The largest part of the project would provide electricity to energy-thirsty Pakistan, badly affected by hours of daily scheduled power cuts because of electricity-shortages, based mostly on building new coal-fired power plants.

The plans envisages adding 10,400 megawatts of electricity at a cost of $15.5 billion by 2018. And after 2018 a further 6,600 megawatts, at an additional cost of $18.3 billion, will be added, doubling Pakistan’s current electricity output.

The CPEC brings many benefits for China and Pakistan, but it is also challenged by security-related and political threats.

There are two major sources of threat: Indian involvement, and the separatist rebellion in Baluchistan where the port of Gwadar is situated.

Both dimensions of threat are interconnected because recent arrests of Indian spies by Pakistan reveal that the Indian government is spending a huge amount of money and resources on sabotaging the CPEC project.

Apart from espionage activities, India is also supporting the Baloch rebels. Nevertheless, Pakistan is well-equipped, with adequate security and infrastructure support to effectively deal with such challenges. Operation “Zarb-e-Azb,” which has received international recognition, has flushed out the major chunk of extremists from Pakistan’s soil.

The political side of the project for Pakistan is also not rosy.

It is always difficult to achieve political consensus on an issue. The Kalabagh dam project, for example, which is considered to be extremely important in addressing Pakistan’s water-shortage problems, has been subjected to political controversy and still awaits construction.

Similar formulas are being applied to CPEC. Drums of provincialism are being beaten loudly to make CPEC another Kalabagh dam.

However, this time sanity has prevailed in the political leadership and controversies were nipped in the bud at an early stage. Besides the efforts of political leaders, the contribution of the Army chief should not go unappreciated.

He took a special interest in this project and provided — and ensured for the future — the Pakistan Army’s full support for the mega-economic project.

CPEC has the potential to carry huge economic benefits for the people of Pakistan and the region. According to a recent estimate, CPEC will serve three billion people, nearly half of the global population. Thus a huge economic bloc is about to emerge from this region.

On completion of the CPEC, Pakistan will become a connecting bridge to three engines of growth: China, Central Asia, and South Asia.

It will create many jobs and elevate Pakistan to high growth rates, which will ensure Pakistan’s stability and serve as a deterrent to extremism and violence.

The completion of CPEC is not going to be an easy task because it has attracted international conspiracies, against which it must be protected.

The economic dividends of this project, by connecting all the economies of the region, are going to be so high that once this project is in full-operation even our neighbor India might ultimately join the club for greater economic benefits.

 

The author is Pakistan’s press counselor in Jeddah