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.


S&P 500 inches closer to record high

Updated 12 August 2020

S&P 500 inches closer to record high

  • US stock market index returns to levels last seen before the onset of coronavirus crisis

NEW YORK: The S&P 500 on Tuesday closed in on its February record high, returning to levels last seen before the onset of the coronavirus crisis that caused one of Wall Street’s most dramatic crashes in history.

The benchmark index was about half a percent below its peak hit on Feb. 19, when investors started dumping shares in anticipation of what proved to be the biggest slump in the US economy since the Great Depression.

Ultra-low interest rates, trillions of dollars in stimulus and, more recently, a better-than-feared second quarter earnings season have allowed all three of Wall Street’s main indexes to recover.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq has led the charge, boosted by “stay-at-home winners” Amazon.com Inc., Netflix Inc. and Apple Inc. The index was down about 0.4 percent.

The blue chip Dow surged 1.2 percent, coming within 5 percent of its February peak.

“You’ve got to admit that this is a market that wants to go up, despite tensions between US-China, despite news of the coronavirus not being particularly encouraging,” said Andrea Cicione, a strategist at TS Lombard.

“We’re facing an emergency from the health, economy and employment point of view — the outlook is a lot less rosy. There’s a disconnect between valuation and the actual outlook even though lower rates to some degree justify high valuation.”

Aiding sentiment, President Vladimir Putin claimed Russia had become the first country in the world to grant regulatory approval to a COVID-19 vaccine. But the approval’s speed has concerned some experts as the vaccine still must complete final trials.

Investors are now hoping Republicans and Democrats will resolve their differences and agree on another relief program to support about 30 million unemployed Americans, as the battle with the virus outbreak was far from over with US cases surpassing 5 million last week.

Also in focus are Sino-US tensions ahead of high-stakes trade talks in the coming weekend.

“Certainly the rhetoric from Washington has been negative with regards to China ... there’s plenty of things to worry about, but markets are really focused more on the very easy fiscal and monetary policies at this point,” said Paul Nolte, portfolio manager at Kingsview Asset Management in Chicago.

Financials, energy and industrial sectors, that have lagged the benchmark index this year, provided the biggest boost to the S&P 500 on Tuesday.

The S&P 500 was set to rise for the eighth straight session, its longest streak of gains since April 2019.

The S&P 500 was up 15.39 points, or 0.46 percent, at 3,375.86, about 18 points shy of its high of 3,393.52. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 341.41 points, or 1.23 percent, at 28,132.85, and the Nasdaq Composite was down 48.37 points, or 0.44 percent, at 10,919.99.

Royal Caribbean Group jumped 4.6 percent after it hinted at new safety measures aimed at getting sailing going again after months of cancellations. Peers Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. and Carnival Corp. also rose.

US mall owner Simon Property Group Inc. gained 4.1 percent despite posting a disappointing second quarter profit, as its CEO expressed some hope over a recovery in retail as lockdown measures in some regions eased.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners 3.44-to-1 on the NYSE and 1.44-to-1 on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded 35 new 52-week highs and no new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 50 new highs and four new lows.