Consumer prices rose 7.1% in November — slowest pace in a year

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Inflation slowed more than expected in November to its slowest pace in a year – raising hopes that the Federal Reserve will ease the torrid clip of its recent slew of rate hikes when it meets on Wednesday.

The November reading of the Consumer Price Index, a closely watched measure of the cost of everyday goods and services, showed that prices increased 7.1% compared to the same month one year ago. The increase was less than the 7.3% gain that economists were expected.

On a monthly basis, prices jumped 0.1% compared to October, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ release on Tuesday.

Core inflation, a measure which excludes volatile food and energy prices, rose 6.0% compared to last year.

The shelter index, which measures housing costs for American consumers, remained a significant obstacle to household budgets with a 7% increase in November. Overall food prices spiked a whopping 10.6% year-over-year, while “food at home” prices, the BLS’ measure of grocery costs, surged 12%.

“The index for shelter was by far the largest contributor to the monthly all items increase, more than offsetting decreases in energy indexes,” the Bureau of Labor Statistics said in a release.

Prices are still elevated during the holiday shopping season.
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Major stock index futures all spiked on Tuesday morning minutes after the latest inflation report was released. Signs of cooling inflation have stoked optimism in the market that the Fed will slow down its policy path and nix additional sharp interest rates.

Federal Reserve officials are holding their final policy meeting of the year this week to discuss yet another sharp rate hike – with a decision slated for Wednesday.

The central bank is expected to implement a smaller half-percentage point hike, in a sign that officials are easing off their hawkish policy stance.

Still, investors fear the Fed will trigger a recession by hiking rates too aggressively despite signs of a slowing economy. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen acknowledged last Sunday that she saw a “risk” of recession.

Inflation remains a major source of strain for consumers faced with buying gifts on top of their normal expenses, according to Mark Hamrick, Bankrate senior economic analyst.
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Ahead of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ announcement, economists projected the Consumer Price Index would rise 7.3% year-over-year – down from 7.7% in October. On a monthly basis, experts had expected prices to increase 0.3% from October to November — down slightly from a 0.4% pace the previous month.

With the holiday shopping season well underway, inflation remains a major source of strain for consumers faced with buying gifts on top of their normal expenses, according to Mark Hamrick, Bankrate senior economic analyst.

“The inflation fever is breaking, but it hasn’t gone away,” Hamrick said.

“Bargain conscious holiday gift shoppers are finding compelling values on the likes of clothing and consumer electronics,” Hamrick added. “But more broadly, with the costs of necessities so high, consumers are having to forego a good number of discretionary purchases.”

While the cost of energy has eased since hitting its peak over the summer, the cost of food has stayed persistently high and made it more difficult for Americans to afford their groceries. Steep housing inflation has forced core inflation well above the Fed’s 2% target.

The latest CPI report will have major implications as Federal Reserve officials hold their final policy meeting of the year this week to discuss yet another sharp rate hike – with a decision slated for Wednesday.

The central bank is expected to implement a smaller half-percentage point hike, in a sign that officials are easing off their hawkish policy stance.

Still, investors fear the Fed will trigger a recession by hiking rates too aggressively despite signs of a slowing economy. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen acknowledged last Sunday that she saw a “risk” of recession.

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