Inflation held steady in September, running hotter than expected

Consumer prices rose 3.7% over the year ending in September.

October 12, 2023, 8:50 AM

Consumer prices rose 3.7% in September compared to a year ago, holding steady from the previous month and running hotter than economists had expected.

While inflation has fallen significantly from a peak of about 9% last summer, price increases remain more than a percentage point higher than the Fed's inflation target.

The data arrives roughly three weeks before the Fed plans to make its latest rate-hike decision. Last month, the Fed left its benchmark interest rate unchanged, noting that it expects to raise rates one more time this year.

Increases in housing and gasoline prices made up the largest contributors to price movement last month, government data showed.

The stubbornness of the price hike data held true for a separate key metric, core inflation, which strips out volatile food and energy prices.

Core inflation rose 4.1% in September compared to a year ago, matching the rate demonstrated over the previous month.

Despite hotter-than-expected annual inflation, the report holds some good news for the performance of price hikes last month.

Consumer prices increased a significant 0.4% in September compared to the previous month, a marked slowdown from the month-over-month inflation rate in August, according to the data released on Thursday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Mixed signals from the economy in recent weeks have complicated the Fed's effort to bring down inflation while averting a recession, an outcome known as a "soft landing."

A rapid rise in U.S. government bond yields over recent weeks has elevated borrowing costs for consumers seeking mortgage loans and corporations pursuing funds to expand their business. The jump in borrowing expenses threatens to slow economic activity in the coming months.

However, a blockbuster jobs report on Friday showed that employers added 336,000 jobs in September, exceeding economist expectations by nearly twofold and reversing a monthslong hiring slowdown.

PHOTO: Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell holds a press conference in Washington, D.C., Sept., 20, 2023.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell holds a press conference in Washington, D.C., Sept., 20, 2023.
Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images, FILE

The unemployment rate held steady at 3.8%, a historically low figure, government data showed.

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The robust hiring suggests that businesses remain willing to add workers, despite an aggressive series of interest rate hikes over the past year.

The good economic news may pose a difficulty for the Federal Reserve, however, as it tries to cool the economy and slow down price increases.

While the breakneck hiring could alarm central bankers, a simultaneous moderation of wage growth shown by the hiring data could alleviate fears of upward pressure placed on prices in the event of a sharp rise in worker pay.

Wages increased 4.2% on an annual basis last month, exceeding the inflation rate but falling well below the 6% pace recorded in March, data showed.

Despite significant progress over the past year, the Fed remains far from its target inflation rate, Fed Chair Jerome Powell said at a press conference in Washington, D.C., last month.

"The process of getting inflation sustainably down to 2% has a long way to go," Powell said.

"Given how far we have come, we're in a position to proceed carefully as we assess the incoming data and the evolving outlook and risks," Powell added.

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