The cost of living in the United States, excluding food and fuel, increased in January by the most in more than four years, reflecting broad-based gains that signal companies may be getting some pricing power.
The so-called core consumer-price measure climbed 0.3%, more than forecast and the most since August 2011, after a 0.2% gain the month before, a Labor Department report showed Feb. 19. Total prices were little changed, depressed by the continued plunge in energy costs.
A tightening labor market and nascent signs of wage growth bode well for domestic demand, a rebound in which could help stoke inflation if energy costs stabilize. The increase in inflation likely will hearten Federal Reserve policymakers, who are monitoring the U.S. economy’s durability against headwinds such as stock market turmoil and weaker foreign markets.
“Prices are firming up, and it’s across a fairly nice breadth,” said Tom Porcelli, chief U.S. economist at RBC Capital Markets in New York. “If that doesn’t convince people that inflation is not dead, I don’t know what will.”
Total consumer prices were expected to drop 0.1% in January from the month before based on the median of 82 economists in a Bloomberg News survey. Estimates ranged from a 0.2% decline to a 0.1% increase.
In the 12 months ended January, the overall consumer price measure increased 1.4% after a 0.7% increase in the prior period.
The core index advanced 2.2% from a year earlier, the most since June 2012.
The core gauge was projected by the Bloomberg survey to rise 0.2% in January from the previous month.
Prices for rent, clothing, medical care and new and used cars all advanced.
The CPI is the broadest of three price gauges from the Labor Department because it includes all goods and services. About 60% of the index covers prices consumers pay for services from medical visits to airline fares, movie tickets and rents.
The Labor Department’s gauge of wholesale prices, which includes 75% of all U.S. goods and services, unexpectedly climbed 0.1% in January from the month before on the back of higher food costs. A separate report last week indicated the cost of imported goods fell 1.1% for a second month.