Consumer prices flat in November

A shopper looks at hiking boots during a sale in REI Co-op's flagship store in Seattle. U.S. consumer prices remained unchanged in November following an increase in October

USA consumer prices were unchanged in November, held back by a sharp decline in the price of gasoline, but underlying inflation pressures remained firm amid rising rents and health-care costs. In the 12 months through November, the CPI rose 2.2%, the smallest gain since February, after advancing 2.5% in October. It is that year-over-year reading that economists use for their annualized inflation readings.

A report on Tuesday showed producer prices edging up 0.1 per cent in November after accelerating 0.6 per cent in October.

According to the department, the so-called core CPI, which excludes energy and food costs, edged up 0.2 percent in November compared to the previous month.

Amid expectations that the Federal Reserve will likely pause interest rate hikes sometime next year, the dollar has been a bit sluggish at times over the past few days.

For November, energy prices dropped 2.2 percent after a 2.4 percent jump in October. It hit the USA central bank's 2% target in March for the first time since April 2012. Used auto prices have been rising faster, up 2.4 percent in November and 2.3 percent higher than November 2017.

Minutes of the Fed's November policy meeting showed almost all officials agreed another rate hike was "likely to be warranted fairly soon", but also opened debate on when to pause further monetary policy tightening.

"The recent softening in core inflation won't prevent the Fed from raising interest rates again next week", said Andrew Hunter, U.S. economist at Capital Economics.

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Economists surveyed by Bloomberg expected the consumer-price index to remain unchanged in November, and core prices to rise 0.2%.

In November, gasoline prices tumbled 4.2 per cent after rebounding 3.0 per cent in October. With oil prices falling sharply since October on signs of an economic slowdown, gasoline could become even cheaper. Prices for medical care rose 0.4%, the most since June; these readings often vary from results for this category within the Fed's preferred measure of inflation due to different methodologies.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the monthly changes in the indexes for medical care, recreation and water and sewer and trash collection showed gains in November. The US is largely a service sector economy and the biggest cost input is labour.

New vehicle prices remained relatively tame: They were unchanged from October, the fourth straight month without an increase.

Prices for mobile telephone services, airfares and auto insurance fell.

The used cars and trucks index increased 2.4 percent in November.

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