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December Consumer Price Index: Up Slightly from November

January 20, 2016

by Jill Mislinski

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released the December CPI data this morning. The year-over-year unadjusted Headline CPI came in at 0.73%, up from 0.50% the previous month. Year-over-year Core CPI (ex Food and Energy) came in at 2.10% (rounded to 2.1%), little changed from the previous month's 2.02% (rounded to 2.0%)

Here is the introduction from the BLS summary, which leads with the seasonally adjusted monthly data:

The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) declined 0.1 percent in December on a seasonally adjusted basis, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Over the last 12 months, the all items index increased 0.7 percent before seasonal adjustment.

The indexes for energy and food both declined for the second month in a row, leading to the decline in the seasonally adjusted all items index. The energy index fell 2.4 percent as all major component energy indexes declined. The food index fell 0.2 percent as the index for food at home decreased 0.5 percent, led by a sharp decline in the index for meats, poultry, fish, and eggs.

The index for all items less food and energy rose 0.1 percent in December, its smallest increase since August. The index for shelter continued to rise, and the indexes for medical care, household furnishings and operations, motor vehicle insurance, education, used cars and trucks, and tobacco also increased in December. However, a number of indexes declined, including those for apparel, airline fares, personal care, new vehicles, and communication.

The all items index rose 0.7 percent over the last 12 months, compared to the 0.5 percent 12 month increase for the period ending November. The food index rose 0.8 percent over the last 12 months, though the index for food at home declined. The energy index fell 12.6 percent, with all its major components decreasing. The index for all items less food and energy increased 2.1 percent over the last 12 months. [More…] was looking for a 0.2% increase MoM in the seasonally adjusted Core CPI and 0.0% in the MoM Headline CPI. Year-over-year forecasts were 0.8% for Headline and 2.1% for Core.

The first chart is an overlay of Headline CPI and Core CPI (the latter excludes Food and Energy) since the turn of the century. The highlighted two percent level is the Federal Reserve's Core inflation target for the CPI's cousin index, the BEA's Personal Consumptions Expenditures (PCE) price index.

Headline and Core CPI since 2000

The next chart shows both series since 1957, which was the first time the government began tracking Core Inflation.

Headline and Core CPI

In the wake of the Great Recession, two percent has been the Fed's target for core inflation. However, at their December 2012 FOMC meeting, the inflation ceiling was raised to 2.5% while their accommodative measures (low Fed Funds Rate and quantitative easing) were in place. They have since reverted to the two percent target in their various FOMC documents.

Federal Reserve policy, which in recent history has focused on core inflation measured by the core PCE Price Index, will see that the more familiar core CPI remains below the PCE target range of 2 percent.