Consumer price inflation rises amid increases in gas and housing costs

Key Points
  • U.S. consumer prices rose broadly in July.
  • The rise in inflation will likely do little to change expectations that the Fed will cut interest rates again next month amid worsening trade tensions.
  • The Consumer Price Index rose 0.3% last month, lifted by gains in the cost of energy products and a range of other goods, the Labor Department said.
Consumer Price Index rises 0.3% in July, as expected
Consumer Price Index rises 0.3% in July, as expected

Consumer prices rose more quickly than expected in July as gasoline reversed a two-month decline and the cost for rent continued to climb.

The consumer price index for all items was up 0.3% for the month, against expectations for a 0.2% increase. Gasoline rose 2.5% while shelter costs increased 0.3%.

Markets have been watching the inflation data closely for clues about what the Federal Reserve will do in the days ahead. The U.S. central bank is broadly expected to drop its benchmark overnight lending rate another 25 basis points in September after cutting for the first time in 11 years at the July meeting.

Though the CPI numbers came in a bit hotter than expected, it likely won't be enough to deter a rate cut that the markets have been clamoring for.

Excluding food and energy costs, the index was still up 0.3%, which was in line with Wall Street estimates.

On an annualized basis, the core inflation rate increased 2.2%, while the headline number was up 1.8%. The Fed targets inflation at 2% but has maintained a symmetrical approach, meaning it would be content if the level was a bit above or below that level over the short term. The Fed also prefers to use the personal consumption expenditures deflator as its inflation gauge, and that has been running closer to 1.5%.

"Provided that the incoming activity data continue to deteriorate, however, the Fed still looks likely to cut interest rates again next month," Andrew Hunter, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics, said in a note.

Inflation generally has remained tame despite the accelerating tariff battle between the U.S. and China. President Donald Trump jolted markets last week when he announced he will institute tariffs against all Chinese imports starting in September. Those duties would impact mostly consumer goods, whereas the previous charges were against mostly intermediate products.

Consumer the strongest part of US economy, says NatWest's Girard
Consumer the strongest part of US economy, says NatWest's Girard

On the wages front, real average hourly earnings, when adjusted for inflation and hours worked, fell 0.1% for the month while real average weekly earnings were off 0.3%. On a year-over-year basis, the respective gains were 1.3% and 0.8%.

In July, energy prices overall increased 1.3% after falling 2.3% the month before. The biggest component came in the gasoline jump, though prices in that space remain 3.3% lower than a year ago.

Owners equivalent rent rose 2% in July, the smallest advance since December 2018

In July, gasoline prices rebounded 2.5% after dropping 3.6% in June. Electricity rose 0.6%. Food prices were unchanged for a second straight month. Food consumed at home slipped 0.1%.

Owners' equivalent rent of primary residence, which is what a homeowner would pay to rent or receive from renting a home, rose 0.2% in July, the smallest gain since December 2018. Rents had risen by 0.3% for six straight months.

Healthcare costs jumped 0.5% after advancing 0.3% in June.

Apparel prices rose 0.4% after surging 1.1% in June. Used motor vehicles and trucks prices increased 0.9% in July after rebounding 1.6% in the prior month. Prices for new motor vehicles fell 0.2%. The cost of household furnishings and operations increased 0.4%, rising for a third straight month.

Used vehicle prices rose 0.9% but new vehicles fell 0.2%. Medical care services also posted a strong increase, up 0.5% for a 3.3% increase over a year ago.