Consumer prices continued to move upward in February in the latest sign that Americans continue to grapple with surging energy prices.
The consumer-price index rose in February to 0.4% from 0.3% in January the U.S. Labor Department said Wednesday. Rising gas prices drove the increase as the gasoline index rose 6.4% and accounted for over half of the rise in the all-items index.
The core rate, which excludes the more volatile food and energy indexes, rose 0.1% in January and increased 1.3% overall compared to February 2020.
“There’s going to be a lot of attention on inflation over the next few months because we’re gonna see a noticeable but transitory acceleration in inflation,” said Ryan Sweet, head of monetary policy research at Moody’s Analytics. “Some of the transitory factors are higher global oil prices [and] favorable year over year comparisons because the pandemic began to rear its ugly head in March.”
But economists signal that the rise in gas prices is driving the surge, not inflation. While inflation was quiet during 2020 at 0.62%, some economists say they don’t expect the U.S. to pass the Federal Reserve 2.5% threshold because prices aren’t increasing across the board.
Inflation rose 1.7% on an annual basis. The overall rise can be attributed to increased energy consumption during winter months and an increased appetite for goods and services.
Food costs were up 0.7% in February due to a surge in prices of fruits and vegetables.
Food outside of the home also rebounded, which shows some sign of renewed life in the restaurant industry. The food away from home index rose an additional 0.1%.
The rise in the recreation index to 0.6% for February is noteworthy as Coronavirus cases continue to fall domestically.
“I think there’s a lot of noise in this report,” said Michael Gapen, managing director and chief U.S. economist at Barclays Capital Inc. “If things we’re clearing up quicker than anticipated, I don’t think we’d see a 5% decline in airline fares and a 2.3% decline in lodging away from home.”
Retail spending moved backward in February. The retail index declined 0.7% after rebounding slightly in January. New vehicle costs remained flat, and used vehicle costs dipped 0.9%.
“The economy is about to take off. We have the fiscal stimulus from late last year [that] is still making its way into the economy and now we have [an] additional $1.9 trillion dollars in stimulus, so the economy is going to be roaring for the next 2 years,” Sweet said. “That helps us get back to full employment sooner.”