US Inflation Rate Accelerates in February, Could Go Higher as Economy Reheats

The U.S. Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose 0.4% in February, leaving it up 1.7% over the last 12 months, in line with economists’ expectations, a Labor Department report Wednesday showed.

The 12-month rate represents an acceleration from January’s 1.4% clip, a pickup partly driven by higher gasoline prices, which rose 6.9% in February, accounting for over half of the seasonally adjusted increase in the all-items index, according to the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

  • Core CPI, which excludes food and energy prices, rose 0.1% in February, the report showed. That level was just below economists’ average estimate of 0.2%, according to FactSet.
  • Sub-indexes for shelter, recreation, medical care and motor vehicle insurance all increased in February.
  • The energy index rose 3.9%.
  • The index for airline fares continued to decline in February, falling 5.1% as consumers traveled less during the pandemic.

Pantheon’s chief U.S. economist, Ian Shepherdson, wrote in a note to clients:

“We are surprised by the softness of the core. Some of the components where we expected solid increases did deliver; owners’ equivalent rent, for example, rose 0.27%, the biggest increase since January last year and a further clear sign that the downward pressure on rents – 40% of the core – is fading. Physicians’ services prices jumped 2.0% month-to-month, completing the adjustment implied by the 3.75% increase in Medicare reimbursement rates, effective January 1. But airline fares plunged 5.1%, despite soaring jet fuel prices, and hotel room rates dropped 2.3%, in contrast to the increase in room rates reported by STR, Inc., which tracks key hotel performance metrics. These declines can’t last. Finally, used auto prices fell by 0.9%, the fourth-straight big decline, widening the gap between the CPI measure and auction prices still further. Again, this does not seem sustainable.”

Ian Sheperdson, chief U.S. economist at Pantheon

Rising inflation is closely watched by bitcoin (BTC) traders because a growing number of investors see the largest cryptocurrency as a hedge against higher prices. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has suggested that inflation will rise in the coming months but the increase will likely be temporary.