Inflation watchers have recently focused much of their attention on the sharp price drop in energy and other commodities, as a glut of supply has collided with a slowdown in demand. Policymakers at the Federal Reserve are tracking prices closely as a sign of whether the U.S. economy is healthy enough to sustain a renewed rise in interest rates after an historic period of cheap money.
Falling prices are usually a sign that demand from companies and consumers is weak and that the economy may be hitting a soft spot.
But when the price of services is taken into account, inflation seems less tame than the recent weakness in commodity prices would indicate. Last month, producer prices overall were up 0.3 percent, which works out to an annual rate of 3.6 percent.
The latest numbers "add to the evidence of a now hard-to-ignore resurgence in core inflation over the past few months," said Stephen Murphy, an economist with Capital Economics. "For all the talk of global deflationary pressures this week, we suspect the Fed will be more focused on the growing evidence of mounting domestic inflationary pressures. A September rate hike is coming."
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While economists and policymakers focus heavily on the widely-reported "headline" numbers, the monthly report is intensely detailed. The main index is sliced and diced into thousands of individual readings, sampled monthly by an army of government researchers.
The list includes major categories like metals and other raw materials, but the basic index also tracks everything from "coin-operated amusement machines" to "dual purpose sleep furniture, including convertible sofas" to "heat exchangers and steam condensers (except for nuclear applications)" and "dump truck bodies, sold separately."
Services categories include broad areas like financial auditing, architectural services and legal advice. But the BLS also keeps a close eye on hundreds of other specific services from "membership dues, fitness and recreational sports centers" to "sales of blood and blood products, organs, and tissues."
Here's a sampling of last month's biggest gainers and losers.