WASHINGTON (AP) — Consumers paid more in January for everything from food and gas to airline tickets and clothing. The price increases reflect creeping but still-modest inflation.
The Consumer Price Index rose 0.4% last month, matching December's increase, the Labor Department said Thursday. In the past year, the index has risen 1.6%.
Excluding volatile food and energy costs, the core index rose 0.2%. That's the largest increase in more than a year. Core prices increased 1% over the past 12 months. That's higher than December's 0.8% annual pace, but well below the Federal Reserve's preferred range of closer to 2%.
Food prices increased 0.5% in January, the most in more than two years. Gas prices rose 3.5%.
Other reports on Thursday showed:
- More people are applying for unemployment benefits. Applications rose last week to a seasonally adjusted 410,000, the Labor Department said. That follows a week when they fell to their lowest level in three years, although the decline was partly because snowstorms closed some government offices and kept people from applying.
- Fewer homeowners are falling behind on their mortgages. The Mortgage Bankers Association said 8.2% of homeowners missed at least one mortgage payment in the October-December quarter. That's down from 9.1% in the previous quarter and a high of more than 10% in the January-March quarter. But foreclosures are still on the rise.
- The average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage dipped to 5% this week from 5.05%, according to Freddie Mac. The average rate had reached a 40-year low of 4.17% in November.
- A private research group's gauge of future economic activity rose a slim 0.1% in January, much less than in recent months. The rise in the Conference Board's index of leading economic indicators was the seventh consecutive monthly advance.
The report on consumer prices shows that some companies are seeking to pass on higher prices for oil, cotton, and other commodities. In January, a measure of wholesale inflation rose at the fastest pace in more than two years.
But high unemployment and weak wage increases are limiting retailers from hiking up prices.
"With the unemployment rate still at 9%, there will be plenty of downward pressure on underlying prices and so we don't expect core inflation to trend upwards," Paul Ashworth, an economist at Capital Economics, said.
Federal Reserve officials unanimously concluded late last month that inflation wasn't yet a problem, according to minutes released Wednesday of a Jan. 25-26 meeting. The central bank anticipates inflation won't exceed 1.7% this year.