The numbers: A key measure of U.S. inflation rose just 0.2% in April to mark the smallest increase in a year and a half, aided by lower gasoline prices. There were additional hints that a surge in U.S. inflation might be abating.
The increase in the so-called personal consumption price index, or PCE, was its smallest since November 2020.
What’s more, the rate of inflation over the past year slowed to 6.3% in April from a 40-year high of 6.6% in the prior month. It was the first decline in a year and a half.
A narrower measure of inflation that omits volatile food and energy costs, known as the core PCE, rose in April by relatively modest 0.3% for the third month in a row. That was in line with Wall Street’s forecast.
The Fed views the PCE index, the core rate in particular, as the most accurate measure of U.S. inflation. It’s more comprehensive and takes into account when consumers substitute cheaper goods for more expensive ones — say, ground beef for filet mignon or frozen spinach for fresh.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ better-known consumer price index was up by 8.3% in the 12 months ended in April.
Big picture: A majority of Americans have never endured such high inflation, and it’s caused plenty of angst on Main Street and Wall Street alike, as well as in Washington.
In a bid to quell inflation, the Fed is moving to swiftly raise a key short-term interest rate that it kept near zero percent during most of the pandemic. The resulting increase in interest rates on car loans, mortgages and business lending is likely to slow the economy, though Fed officials maintain they can bring down inflation without triggering a recession.
Whether the surge in inflation starts to peter out soon is still an open question.
The war in Ukraine has pushed up prices of oil and other commodities, while recent lockdowns in China have exacerbated supply-chain issues that had contributed heavily to the highest inflation readings in decades.
Key details: The trio of 0.3% readings in the core PCE rate from February through April was the smallest since last summer, when inflation’s surge briefly slowed.
As a result, the rate of core PCE inflation in the past year tapered off to 4.9% from 5.2%. The monthly decline was the second in a row. The last back-to-back declines occurred early in the pandemic.
Looking ahead: “The slowing in inflation is very welcome, although headline inflation is likely to jump again on a monthly basis in May with another big spike in energy prices,” said chief economist Gus Faucher of PNC Financial Services.
“Inflation is likely peaking on a year-over-year basis in the spring, but it is still well above the Fed’s 2% objective.”