December Headline Consumer Price Index At Its Lowest Since October 2009

January 16, 2015

by Doug Short

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released the November CPI data this morning. Year-over-year unadjusted Headline CPI came in at 0.76% (rounded to 0.8%), down from 1.32% (rounded to 1.3%) the previous month. Year-over-year Core CPI (ex Food and Energy) came in at 1.61% (rounded to 1.6%), down from the previous month's 1.70%. The non-seasonally adjusted month-over-month Headline number was down -0.57% (rounded to -0.6%), and the Core number was down -0.20%.

The December headline number was the lowest since the eight-month deflationary period that ended in October 2009.

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

The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) declined 0.4 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 0.8 percent before seasonal adjustment.

The gasoline index continued to fall sharply, declining 9.4 percent and leading to the decrease in the seasonally adjusted all items index. The fuel oil index also fell sharply, and the energy index posted its largest one-month decline since December 2008, although the indexes for natural gas and for electricity both increased. The food index, in contrast, rose 0.3 percent, its largest increase since September.

The index for all items less food and energy was unchanged in December, following a 0.2 percent increase in October and a 0.1 percent rise in November. This was only the second time since 2010 that it did not increase. The shelter index continued to rise, and the index for medical care posted its largest increase since August 2013. However, these increases were offset by declines in a broad array of indexes including apparel, airline fares, used cars and trucks, household furnishings and operations, and new vehicles.

The all items index increased 0.8 percent over the last 12 months. This is notably lower than the 1.3 percent change for the 12 months ending November. The energy index has declined 10.6 percent over the span. In contrast, the 3.4 percent increase in the food index is its largest 12-month increase since February 2012. The index for all items less food and energy has increased 1.6 percent over the last 12 months, its smallest 12-month change since the 12 months ending February 2014.   [More…] was looking for a -0.4 decline in Headline CPI and no change in Core CPI. Year-over-year forecasts were 0.7% for Headline and 1.7% 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. I've highlighted 2 to 2.5 percent range, which the Federal Reserve currently targets for the CPI's cousin index, the BEA's Personal Consumptions Expenditures (PCE) price index.

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The next chart shows both series since 1957, which was the first time the government began tracking the core inflation metric.

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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.

Federal Reserve policy, which has historically focused on core inflation as measured by the core PCE Price Index, will see that the more familiar core CPI has reached the PCE the target range of 2 to 2.5 percent.

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