U.S. consumer prices moderated in May, but sustained increases in housing and healthcare costs kept underlying inflation supported, which could allow the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates this year.
While another report on Thursday showed an increase in the number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits last week, the trend remained consistent with a healthy labor market. The data came a day after the Fed downgraded its assessment of the jobs market and gave a mixed view of the economy.
The Labor Department said its Consumer Price Index increased 0.2 percent last month, slowing from April’s 0.4 percent rise. Gasoline prices rose modestly and the cost of food fell.
In the 12 months through May, the CPI gained 1.0 percent after advancing 1.1 percent in April.
Stripping out the volatile food and energy components, the so-called core CPI, increased 0.2 percent after a similar gain in April. That took the year-on-year core CPI rise to 2.2 percent from 2.1 percent in April.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the CPI gaining 0.3 percent last month and the core CPI rising 0.2 percent.
The Fed has a 2 percent inflation target and tracks an inflation measure which is currently at 1.6 percent. The U.S. central bank on Wednesday kept interest rates unchanged and said it expected inflation to remain below its target through 2017.
FOOD PRICES FALL
Last month, gasoline prices rose 2.3 percent after surging 8.1 percent in April. Food prices fell 0.2 percent, reversing the prior month’s increase.
Within the core CPI basket, housing and medical costs maintained their upward trend. Owners’ equivalent rent of primary residence rose 0.3 percent after rising by the same margin in April.
Medical care costs increased 0.3 percent
While the Fed signaled it still planned two rate hikes this year, there was less conviction, with six officials expecting only a single increase, up from one in March. The Fed raised its benchmark overnight interest rate in December for the first time in nearly a decade.
The dollar extended losses against the yen on the data, while prices for U.S. government debt were little changed.