US consumer prices rise slightly as higher rents, costlier food offset cheaper gas

Christopher S. Rugaber, The Associated Press
November 15, 2012

WASHINGTON - Rising food costs and higher rents offset a drop in gas prices last month, leaving U.S. consumer prices only slightly higher in October compared with the previous month.

The consumer price index rose a seasonally adjusted 0.1 per cent in October, down from sharp gains of 0.6 per cent in the previous two months, the Labor Department said Thursday. In the past year, prices increased 2.2 per cent. That's just above the Federal Reserve's inflation target of 2 per cent.

The cost of shelter, which includes rents, rose 0.3 per cent, the most in more than four years. Clothes and airline fares also rose, while the price of new and used cars fell.

Food prices rose 0.2 per cent, while gas fell 0.6 per cent. Excluding the volatile food and gas categories, core prices increased 0.2 per cent.

Modest inflation leaves consumers with more money to spend, which can boost economic growth. Lower inflation makes it easier for the central bank 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.

Gas prices rose sharply over the summer and into September, but have since come down. The average price for a gallon (3.7 litres) of gas nationwide was $3.44 on Wednesday, about 35 cents below last month's level.

Most economists forecast that food prices rose last month. This summer's drought n the Midwest damaged corn, soybeans and other crops. Corn and soybeans are used in animal feed, which means the price of meat and chicken could increase.

And corn is also used in many products found throughout the supermarket, from cereals to soft drinks to cosmetics.