US consumer prices likely showed tiny gain in September with inflation still modest

MarketsAssociated Press

The Labor Department reports on consumer prices for September. The report will be released at 8:30 a.m. EDT Wednesday.

SMALL GAIN: The consensus is that prices edged up a slight 0.1 percent in September, according to a survey of economists by data firm FactSet.

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LOW INFLATION: In August, prices fell 0.2 percent, the first monthly decline since a similar 0.2 percent dip in April 2013. It was the latest evidence that inflation remains under control.

Core prices, which exclude energy and food, were unchanged in August, the first time there hasn't been an increase since October 2010. The expectation is that core prices will show a small 0.2 percent rise for September.

Over the 12 months ending in August, overall prices and core prices were both up a modest 1.7 percent. These gains are well within the 2 percent annual increase for inflation that the Federal Reserve considers optimal.

A plunge in global oil prices in recent weeks is expected to keep downward pressure on energy prices. Oil is trading below $85 per barrel now, down about 27 percent from its high point this year, giving people a big break at the pump.

The AAA says that the nationwide average for gas is now $3.09, down 25 cents in just the past month.

Falling energy prices were expected to be a major factor holding down overall price increases in September and coming months.

The decline in energy prices is one of the reasons that economists are optimistic that consumer spending will show gains in coming months. If consumers are spending less filling up their tanks, they tend to spend more on other items.

Food costs have also moderated after being driven higher by adverse crop conditions, including a drought in California that cut into yields.

The Fed seeks to promote maximum employment and stable prices. Price increases measured by the Fed's favorite inflation gauge have been running below 2 percent for two years.

With inflation low, the central bank has been able to keep a key interest rate at a record low near zero for nearly six years. The widespread expectation is that the Fed will not begin raising its benchmark rate until around June of next year.