Gasoline Led Prices Slightly Higher in January

MILL VALLEY, CA - MARCH 03: A customer pumps gasoline into his car at an Arco gas station on March 3, 2015 in Mill Valley, California. U.S. gas prices have surged an average of 39 cents in the past 35 days as a result of the price of crude oil …
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Apart from gasoline, consumer prices barely budged in January.

The consumer price index climbed three-tenths of a percentage point in January, the Labor Department said Wednesday. That was the fastest pace of inflation in five months.

But most of that can be attributed to higher gasoline prices, which rose by 7.4 percent in January. Prices of food consumed at home, which can be volatile month-to-month, rose just one-tenth of a percent. Excluding food and energy, prices were unchanged in January.

Prices are expected to rise this year as bank accounts inflated by pandemic relief payments and an accommodative Federal Reserve stance boost demand and the pandemic’s effect fades. But they are not rising yet.

Even after two months of big hikes in gasoline prices, U.S. consumers are still paying less at the pump than they were a year ago. Compared with January of 2020, gas prices are down 8.8 percent.

Compared with a year ago, the consumer price index is up 1.4 percent. That is far below the 2.3 percent year over year price climb seen before the pandemic.

Prices of some items are up. Used car prices have skyrocketed and are 10 percent above the year-ago level. The index for major appliances is up 15.8 percent, led by a 23.1 percent gain in washing machines. Grocery prices are up 3.8 percent year-over-year.

But these price hikes have been offset by declines in other categories. Clothing prices are down 2.5 percent compared with a year ago, led by the a 15.6 percent decline in men’s suits. Women’s dress prices have fallen 11.6 percent. Phone prices have fallen 17.8 percent, which may indicate that a non-trivial part of the demand for new phones was due to social status signaling.

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