US Core Inflation Tops Forecasts for a Second Straight Month

Underlying US inflation topped forecasts for a second month in February as prices jumped for used cars, air travel and clothes, reinforcing the Federal Reserve’s cautious approach to cutting interest rates.

The so-called core consumer price index, which excludes food and energy costs, increased 0.4% from January, according to government data out Tuesday. From a year ago, it advanced 3.8%.

Economists see the core gauge as a better indicator of underlying inflation than the overall CPI. That measure climbed 0.4% from January and 3.2% from a year ago, boosted by gasoline prices, Bureau of Labor Statistics figures showed.

Metric Actual Estimate
CPI MoM +0.4% +0.4%
Core CPI MoM +0.4% +0.3%
CPI YoY +3.2% +3.1%
Core CPI YoY +3.8% +3.7%

After a brisk January reading, the report adds to evidence that inflation is proving stubborn, which is keeping central bankers wary of easing policy too soon. Chair Jerome Powell suggested last week that he and his colleagues are getting close to the level of confidence they need to start lowering rates, but some officials have expressed they’d like to see a broader pullback in prices first.

“This will probably be seen as a reason to keep policy on hold a while longer,” said Kathy Jones, Charles Schwab’s chief fixed-income strategist. “Through the volatility, the downtrend in inflation seems to be leveling off and the Fed would like to see it continue to move lower before easing rates.”