Fed’s preferred inflation gauge logs lowest annual rise since March 2021

Feb 29, 2024

 Josh Schafer

The Fed’s preferred inflation gauge logged its lowest annual increase since March 2021 in January, matching Wall Street forecasts, while monthly prices rose at the fastest rate in a year.

The core Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) index, which strips out the costs of food and energy and is closely watched by the Federal Reserve, rose 2.8% over the prior year in January, the slowest annual increase since a 2.2% increase in March 2021.

Compared to the prior month, core PCE rose 0.4%, the most since January 2023 and an increase from the 0.1% increase seen in December.

Headline PCE, which includes all categories, logged a 2.4% increase over last year, a slowdown from last month’s 2.6% print.

“Fed officials have signaled they do not need better news on inflation to cut rates, just continued good news,” Oxford Economics deputy chief US economist Michael Pearce wrote in a note to clients. “With the trend in inflation still downward, gradual rate cuts this year are still on the table.”

The print comes at a crucial time in the inflation story after another reading on price increases, the Consumer Price Index (CPI), recently showed prices grew faster than expected in the month of January. The hotter-than-expected report sent stocks lower and prompted investors to shift their interest rate cut expectations.

Markets are now pricing in three interest rate cuts for 2024, in line with the Fed’s most recent forecast and down from a former consensus of six cuts seen back in December, per Bloomberg data. Before Thursday’s report, investors had placed a 58% chance on the first Fed interest rate cut coming in June.

“The surge in core PCE prices in January was largely as expected after the hot CPI and PPI reports,” Capital Economics chief North America economist Paul Ashworth wrote in a note to clients on Thursday. “Although that surge has ruled out an early Fed rate cut, particularly in an environment where first-quarter GDP growth appears to be tracking at 2.5% to 3.0%, we don’t think it changes the broader picture.

“There is still plenty of disinflation coming this year, which means that the annual rate of core PCE inflation will be close to the 2% target by mid-year.”

The most recent minutes from the Federal Reserve’s January meeting showed most officials were concerned about the risks of “moving too quickly” when lowering interest rates. Largely, officials have expressed in recent commentary they want “greater confidence,” on inflation’s path downward.

TOPSHOT - US Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell holds a news conference after a Federal Open Market Committee meeting in Washington, DC, on January 31, 2024. Powell signaled Wednesday that an interest rate cut as soon as in March is unlikely, as the central bank remains data-dependent when mulling its next steps. Powell said the Fed's rate-setting committee plans to

US Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell holds a news conference after a Federal Open Market Committee meeting in Washington, DC, on January 31, 2024. (Photo by Julia Nikhinson / AFP) (Photo by JULIA NIKHINSON/AFP via Getty Images) (JULIA NIKHINSON via Getty Images)

Josh Schafer is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on X @_joshschafer.

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