Ahead of the Bell: US consumer prices

US consumer prices likely posted slight gain in April

Associated Press
US consumer prices ticking up as Fed weighs first rate hike
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In this Thursday, April 2, 2015 photo, shoppers walk past a Dior luxury goods shop on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, Calif. The Labor Department releases the Consumer Price Index for April on Friday, May 22, 2015. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Labor Department reports on April consumer prices Friday at 8:30 a.m. Eastern.

PRICE INCEASE: The expectation is that overall prices edged up a slight 0.1 percent, according to a survey of economists by data firm FactSet. Excluding volatile food and energy, it's believed that prices rose 0.2 percent.

LOW INFLATION: In March, higher-priced gasoline slightly boosted consumer prices by 0.2 percent. It suggested that the effects of cheaper oil have been fading and that inflation may be edging up to healthier levels.

Over the past year, consumer prices actually fell 0.1 percent for the 12 months ending in March, reflecting that big drop in energy prices. Prices excluding food and energy rose 1.8 percent.

Inflation has been running below the 2 percent target set by the Federal Reserve. The Fed aims to keep prices rising at this level, which it views as achieving its goal of price stability. Anything below that target raises the danger of deflation, when prices fall so sharply that they can disrupt economic growth.

The Fed has kept interest rates at a record low near zero for the past six years in an effort to stimulate stronger economic growth and re-establish the millions of jobs lost during the 2007-2009 recession. Fed officials have said they want to be "reasonably confident" that inflation is headed toward their 2 percent target, which would signal a stronger economy, before they start raising rates.

With strong employment gains over the past year and economic growth expected to rebound after a winter slowdown, many economists believe the Fed will start raising rates later this year.

Minutes of their discussions at their last meeting in April indicated that it is unlikely the first rate hike will occur at the Fed's June meeting. Many economists are looking at September or even later this year as the likely time the Fed will start raising rates.

In April, inflation at the wholesale level fell 0.4 percent, with a sharp drop in the cost of gasoline and food pushing down the overall figure.

The nationwide average for gasoline is currently $2.73, according to the AAA Daily Fuel Gauge. While that is up 27 cents from a month ago, it is still 91 cents below the level of a year ago.

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