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Consumer prices barely rise as energy costs fall

U.S. consumer prices rose marginally in September as energy costs fell broadly, painting a weak inflation picture that should give the Federal Reserve ample room to keep interest rates low for a while.

The Labor Department said on Wednesday its Consumer Price Index edged up 0.1 percent last month after declining 0.2 percent in August. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast consumer prices being flat in September.

The CPI increased 1.7 percent in the 12 months through September after a similar rise in August. The CPI-W index, which is used to make adjustments for Social Security payments rose 1.7 percent in the third quarter from the year earlier.

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Inflation has waned in recent months after quickening in the second quarter, in part as a strengthening dollar and slower economic growth in China and the euro zone dampen imported price pressures.

Weak inflation and a recent global equities market sell-off could see the U.S. central bank in no rush to start raising its benchmark overnight interest rate, which it has kept near zero since December 2008.

A customer pays for her purchases at a Publix Super Markets grocery store in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Luke Sharrett | Bloomberg | Getty Images
A customer pays for her purchases at a Publix Super Markets grocery store in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Financial markets now expect the first interest rate hike in the fourth quarter of 2015 instead of the second quarter.

Stripping out food and energy prices, the so-called core CPI ticked up 0.1 percent last month after being unchanged in August. In the 12 months through September, the core CPI rose 1.7 percent after advancing by the same margin in August.

The Fed targets 2 percent inflation and it tracks an index that is running even lower than the CPI.

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In September, energy prices fell for a third straight month, with gasoline prices slipping 1.0 percent after dropping 4.1 percent in August. Food prices gained 0.3 percent after rising 0.2 percent in August.

Within the core CPI, shelter costs increased 0.3 percent in September after rising 0.2 percent in August. The shelter index was up 3.0 percent in the 12 months through September, the largest gain since January 2008.

Airline fares declined for a third straight month, while prices for new motor vehicles and apparel were unchanged.