Friday, January 16, 2009

Consumer Prices Show Smallest Gain in 54 Years

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) was released on Friday morning, and in some good news for the consumer, the index was up only 0.1% for 2008. This is the smallest increase in 54 years according to the Labor Department.

The CPI fell 0.7% in December, the third decline in a row, led by an 8.3% drop in energy prices and a 0.1% drop in food prices. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch expected a 0.8% decline.

The CPI hasn't risen since the 0.8% gain in July. Since then, energy and commodity prices have plunged. Read the full government report.

Core prices - which exclude food and energy prices - were flat in December for the second straight month, as expected. The core CPI hasn't risen since September.

Consumer prices were up 0.1% in 2008, the slowest annual inflation since prices fell 0.7% in 1954. The core CPI was up 1.8% in 2008, the smallest increase since 2003. If the CPI had fallen 0.8% in December as expected, prices would have been down for the year as a whole.

A separate CPI for urban workers showed prices fell 0.5% in 2008, the biggest decline since 1949. The CPI-W is used for many cost-of-living adjustments.

With prices for urban workers down 0.9% in December and average weekly earnings down 0.3%, real (inflation-adjusted) weekly earnings rose 0.6%. In 2008, real earnings were up 2.9%.

Most economists expect inflation to ease for much of this year as global demand weakens. Federal Reserve officials say they aren't especially concerned about deflation taking hold, and insist that they are ready to shrink the money supply once the economy begins to recover in order to prevent a bout of inflation next year.

Details of CPI

In December, prices were flat or falling in most major consumer categories, with health and education the exceptions.

Energy prices fell 8.3%, including a 17% drop in gasoline prices and a 13% drop in fuel oil prices. Excluding energy, the CPI was flat.

Food prices fell 0.1%, led by declining prices for fruits, vegetables, dairy and meat.

Shelter prices - which represent about a third of the CPI - were flat in December. Hotel fares fell 0.7%, rents rose 0.2%, and homeownership equivalent rent rose 0.1%.

Apparel prices fell 0.9%.

Transportation prices fell 4.4% on lower fuel bills. Airfares fell 1.2%. New vehicle prices fell 0.4%.

Medical care prices increased 0.3%.

Education and communication prices rose 0.3%, led by a 0.6% rise in tuition.

Source: MarketWatch

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