US consumer prices rise less than expected in March, but underlying inflation remains elevated
US annualized CPI rose by 5.0% in March compared to 6.0% increase in February and below forecast at 5.2%, while monthly inflation barely moved last month, increasing by 0.1% compared to 0.4% rise in February and also missed consensus for 0.2% increase.
The data show that consumer prices remain in a downward trajectory since June 2022 when inflation hit the highest in over four decades, mainly driven by lower energy prices, though the optimism was muted by stubbornly high underlying inflation.
So-called core inflation, which excludes the most volatile food and energy components, remained elevated in March, coming in line with expectations at 5.6%, compared to 5.5% increase in February, underpinned mainly by stubbornly high rents.
Inflation in the US remains more than double the Fed’s 2% target, with the latest figures adding to expectations that the US central bank will raise interest rates again in the policy meeting on May 3.
Last week’s job report showed solid job growth and drop in unemployment rate, pointing to tight conditions in the labor market, which contributes to expectations of further tightening, as the Fed can shift focus fully to curbing inflation after the crisis caused by collapse of two regional banks eased.
The US Federal Reserve is likely to go for another 25 basis points hike in May, after raising interest rates by total of 475 basis points in one year and pushed the borrowing cost from the levels near zero to 4.75%/5.00% range.
The central bank is likely to face more obstacles in its task, as inflation is entrenched, while other threats come from rising oil prices after OPEC+ organization decided to further cut production, which would fuel further rise in prices.
On the other hand, borrowing cost in the US is at the highest levels since 2008 and is likely going to stay elevated for some time, posing direct threat to economic growth, which requires cautious and balanced approach by the Fed.