Ahead of the Bell: US Consumer Prices

WASHINGTON -- Higher costs for gasoline and other fuel likely pushed up consumer prices in September for the second straight month. Outside energy costs, overall inflation was probably mild.

Economists forecast that the consumer price index jumped 0.5 percent last month, according to a survey by FactSet. That's slightly below an increase of 0.6 percent in August, which was the largest rise in three years. Excluding volatile food and energy costs, prices expected to have increased 0.2 percent. Those core prices rose 0.1 percent in August.

The Labor Department will release the consumer price index at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time Tuesday.

The data will also be used to calculate next year's cost of living adjustment for the 56 million people who receive Social Security benefits. Analysts forecast that the increase will be about 1.5 percent, much lower than the previous year's 3.6 percent rise.

In the 12 months that ended in August, consumer prices rose 1.7 percent. Core prices rose 1.9 percent over the same period.

Gas prices rose sharply over the summer and into September, but have since come down. The average price for a gallon of gas nationwide was $3.79 on Sunday, about 8 cents below last month's level.

Food prices likely also rose modestly last month. The impact of this summer's drought in the Midwest may show up in grocery prices in September or soon after, economists at JPMorgan Chase say. The drought caused spikes in the cost of corn, soybeans and other grains.

Those grains are used in animal feed, which pushes up the price of chicken, beef and pork. And corn is also used in most products found throughout the supermarket, from cereals to soft drinks to cosmetics.

Modest inflation leaves consumers with more money to spend, which can boost economic growth. Lower inflation makes it easier for the Federal Reserve to continue with its efforts to rekindle the economy. If the Fed were worried that prices are rising too fast, it might have to raise interest rates.

Last month, the Federal Reserve said it would purchase $40 billion of mortgage-backed securities a month until the economy and the job market steadily improve. Fed officials also said they would keep short-term interest rates low even after the economic recovery accelerates.

The unemployment rate fell sharply in September to 7.8 percent, the first time it has fallen below 8 percent in more than three and a half years. The rate dropped because a government survey of households found a big increase in the number of people who said they had jobs.

A separate survey of employers found that the economy generated 114,000 jobs last month, a modest total that isn't enough to bring fast relief to the 12 million Americans who are unemployed.