Rising health care costs power US consumer inflation

A report from the Labor Department on Wednesday showed broad price increases, with the cost of health care surging by the most. (Reuters)
Updated 13 November 2019

Rising health care costs power US consumer inflation

WASHINGTON: US consumer prices jumped by the most in seven months in October, which together with abating fears of a recession, support the Federal Reserve’s signal for no further interest rate cuts in the near term.

The report from the Labor Department on Wednesday showed broad price increases, with the cost of health care surging by the most in more than three years and recreation posting its biggest increase since early 1996.

The US central bank last month cut rates for the third time this year and signaled a pause in the easing cycle that started in July when it reduced borrowing costs for the first time since 2008. Firming inflation comes on the heels of fairly upbeat data, including better-than-expected job growth in October and an acceleration in services sector activity.

There has also been a de-escalation of trade tensions between the US and China. President Donald Trump on Tuesday said Washington was close to signing a “phase one” trade deal with Beijing, but provided no new details.

“Barring a sharp slowdown in economic activity, that supports the Fed’s stance of leaving interest rates on hold for an extended period,” said Michael Pearce, a senior US economist at Capital Economics in New York.

The consumer price index (CPI) increased 0.4 percent last month as households paid more for energy products, healthcare, food and a range of other goods. That was the largest gain in the CPI since March and followed an unchanged reading in September.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Consumer price index (CPI) increases 0.4 percent in October.

• CPI advances 1.8 percent year-on-year.

• Core CPI rises 0.2 percent; up 2.3 percent year-on-year.

In the 12 months through October, the CPI increased 1.8 percent after climbing 1.7 percent in September.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the CPI advancing 0.3 percent in October and gaining 1.7 percent on a year-on-year basis.

Excluding the volatile food and energy components, the CPI rose 0.2 percent after edging up 0.1 percent in September. The so-called core CPI was lifted by the strong health care costs and increases in prices of used cars and trucks and recreation and rents.

In the 12 months through October, the core CPI increased 2.3 percent after rising 2.4 percent in September.

The Fed tracks the core personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index for its 2 percent inflation target. The core PCE price index rose 1.7 percent on a year-on-year basis in September and has fallen short of its target this year.

The dollar rose against a basket of currencies on the data, while US Treasury prices rose marginally. US stock index futures extended losses. 

Gasoline prices rebound 

October’s firmer monthly CPI reading and jump in healthcare costs suggest a pick-up in the core PCE price index last month. The core PCE price data will be published later this month.

In October, energy prices vaulted 2.7 percent after falling 1.4 percent in the prior month. Energy prices, which were also driven by more expensive electricity, accounted for more than half of the increase in the CPI last month.

Gasoline prices rebounded 3.7 percent after declining 2.4 percent in September. Food prices climbed 0.2 percent, rising for a second straight month. Food consumed at home gained 0.3 percent.

Owners’ equivalent rent of primary residence, which is what a homeowner would pay to rent or receive from renting a home, climbed 0.2 percent in October after rising 0.3 percent in September. But other shelter categories softened last month. The cost of hotel and motel accommodation dropped 3.8 percent. As a result, the rent index edged up 0.1 percent last month, the smallest gain since April 2011.

Health care costs surged 1 percent last month, the most since August 2016, after climbing 0.2 percent in September. Health care costs were boosted by strong increases in the costs of hospital services and prescription medication.

Used motor vehicles and trucks prices increased 1.3 percent after decreasing 1.6 percent in September. The cost of recreation surged 0.7 percent, the largest increase since February 1996. Households also paid more for personal care products.

But they got some respite from apparel prices, which fell 1.8 percent after dropping 0.4 percent in the prior month. The government early this year introduced a new method and data to calculate the cost of apparel.

Prices for new motor vehicles declined for a fourth straight month. There were also decreases in the costs of household furnishings and airline fares.


A Jordan startup delivers eco-friendly alternative to dry cleaning

Updated 05 December 2019

A Jordan startup delivers eco-friendly alternative to dry cleaning

  • Products used by WashyWash are non-carcinogenic and environmentally neutral
  • Amman-based laundry service aims to relocate to a larger facility in mid-2020

AMMAN: A persistent sinus problem prompted a Jordanian entrepreneur to launch an eco-friendly dry-cleaning service that could help end the widespread use of a dangerous chemical.

“Dry cleaning” is somewhat of a misnomer because it is not really dry. It is true that no water is involved in the process, but the main cleaning agent is perchloroethylene (PERC), a chemical that experts consider likely to cause cancer, as well as brain and nervous system damage.

Kamel Almani, 33, knew little of these dangers when he began suffering from sinus irritation while working as regional sales director at Eon Aligner, a medical equipment startup he co-founded.

The problem would disappear when he went on vacation, so he assumed it was stress related.

However, when Mazen Darwish, a chemical engineer, revealed he wanted to start an eco-laundry and warned about toxic chemicals used in conventional dry cleaning, Almani had an epiphany.

“He began to tell me how PERC affects the respiratory system, and I suddenly realized that it was the suits I wore for work — and which I would get dry cleaned — that were the cause of my sinus problems,” said Almani, co-founder of Amman-based WashyWash.

“That was the eureka moment. We immediately wanted to launch the business.”

WashyWash began operations in early 2018 with five staff, including the three co-founders: Almani, Darwish and Kayed Qunibi. The business now has 19 employees and became cash flow-positive in July this year.

“We’re very happy to achieve that in under two years,” Almani said.

The service uses EcoClean products that are certified as toxin-free, are biodegradable and cause no air, water or soil pollution.

Customers place orders through an app built in-house by the company’s technology team.

WashyWash collects customers’ dirty clothes, and cleans, irons and returns them. Services range from the standard wash-and-fold to specialized dry cleaning for garments and cleaning of carpets, curtains, duvets and leather goods.

“For wet cleaning, we use environmentally friendly detergents that are biodegradable, so the wastewater doesn’t contain any toxic chemicals,” Almani said.

For dry cleaning, WashyWash uses a modified hydrocarbon manufactured by Germany’s Seitz, whose product is non-carcinogenic and environmentally neutral.

A specialized company collects the waste and disposes of it safely.

The company has big ambitions, planning to expand its domestic operations and go international. Its Amman site can process about 1,000 items daily, but WashyWash will relocate to larger premises in mid-2020, which should treble its capacity.

“We’ve built a front-end app, a back-end system and a driver app along with a full facility management system. We plan to franchise that and have received interest from many countries,” Almani said.

“People visiting Amman used our service, loved it, and wanted an opportunity to launch in their countries.”

WashyWash has received financial backing from angel investors and is targeting major European cities initially.

“An eco-friendly, on-demand dry-cleaning app isn’t available worldwide, so good markets might be London, Paris or Frankfurt,” Almani said.

 

• The Middle East Exchange is one of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Global Initiatives that was launched to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai in the field of humanitarian
and global development, to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region. The initiative offers the press a series of articles on issues affecting Arab societies.