Rising gasoline, rents push U.S. inflation higher in September

A Shell gas station is shown in Encinitas, California

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. consumer prices recorded their biggest gain in five months in September as the cost of gasoline and rents surged, pointing to a steady pickup of inflation that could keep the Federal Reserve on track to raise interest rates in December.

The Labor Department said on Tuesday its Consumer Price Index increased 0.3 percent last month after rising 0.2 percent in August. In the 12 months through September, the CPI accelerated 1.5 percent, the biggest year-on-year increase since October 2014. The CPI rose 1.1 percent in the year to August.

“The upward creep of prices weakens any argument against a rate increase in December,” said Anthony Karydakis, chief economic strategist at Miller Tabak in New York. “The economy is close to full employment and prices are starting to respond to that reality.”

Last month’s increase in the CPI was in line with economists’ expectations. However, underlying inflation moderated amid a slowdown in the pace of increases in healthcare costs after recent robust gains.

The so-called core CPI, which strips out food and energy costs, gained 0.1 percent last month after climbing 0.3 percent in August. That slowed the year-on-year increase in the core CPI to 2.2 percent following a 2.3 percent rise in August.

But with rents, which account for a larger share of the core CPI, recording their biggest increase in nearly 10 years, and wages pushing higher, economists cautioned against putting too much emphasis on last month’s weak reading.

The U.S. central bank has a 2 percent inflation target and tracks an inflation measure which is at 1.7 percent. Fed Vice Chair Stanley Fischer said on Monday that the U.S. central bank was “very close” to its inflation and employment targets.

“As inflation approaches 2 percent, the argument that the economy has more room to run becomes harder to make and we believe the Fed remains on track for a rate hike in December,” said John Ryding, chief economist at RDQ Economics in New York.

The Fed lifted its short-term interest rate last December and has held it steady since because of persistently low inflation.

The dollar was little changed against a basket of currencies, while prices for longer-dated U.S. Treasuries rose slightly. U.S. stocks rallied, cheered by better-than-expected quarterly earnings from UnitedHealth, Netflix and Goldman Sachs.

FIRMING DEMAND

While the jump in overall inflation was also the result of last year’s lower energy prices dropping out of the calculation, it suggested firming domestic demand.

A 5.8 percent jump in gasoline prices accounted for more than half of the increase in the CPI last month. Americans also paid more for electricity, with prices posting their biggest gain since December 2014.

The price increases are bad news for retirees, with social security recipients only due to get a 0.3 percent cost of living adjustment increase next year. Households, however, got some relief from food prices in September, which were unchanged for a third straight month. The cost of food consumed at home declined for a fifth straight month.

Within the core CPI basket, housing costs rose further in September. Owners’ equivalent rent of primary residence increased 0.4 percent, the largest gain since October 2006, after rising 0.3 percent in August. Rents tend to be sticky and should keep core inflation supported.

Medical care costs rose 0.2 percent last month, the smallest increase since March, after surging 1.0 percent in August. The cost of hospital services was unchanged, while prices for prescription medicine rose 0.8 percent.

The government revised prices for prescription drugs from May through August this year as incorrect data had been used to calculate price changes. Prescription medicine accounts for about 1.4 percent of the CPI basket.

Consumers also paid more for grooming, motor vehicle insurance, tobacco and airline fares. However, prices for communication recorded their largest decline in two years, while heavy discounting by retailers pushed apparel prices down 0.7 percent. Prices for motor vehicles also fell.

“Inflation is moving up, showing this is not an economy that is undergoing serious demand-based weakness,” said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG Union Bank in New York.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

Wall Street dragged lower by Apple, oil prices

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange

By Yashaswini Swamynathan

(Reuters) – U.S. stocks fell on Thursday morning, weighed down by a fall in Apple as well as a drop in energy companies after OPEC failed to agree on output policy.

Oil prices dropped about 2 percent and the energy index tumbled 1.13 percent. Major oil producers Exxon and Chevron were down about 1 percent.

Apple was down about 1.3 percent after Goldman Sachs cut its price target on the stock, citing lower growth expectations for the smartphone industry. The stock was the biggest drag on all three major indexes.

The European Central Bank kept its negative interest rates unchanged and President Mario Draghi said inflation would likely remain very low or negative in the next few months.

As well as uncertainty over the OPEC decision, contrasting data from the United States and abroad over the past two days led traders to lower their expectations of the Federal Reserve raising interest rates as soon as this month.

The ADP National Employment report on Thursday showed U.S. private payrolls increased a less-than-expected 173,000 in May. But, as the economy nears full employment, job creation would slow, said Mark Zandi, Moody’s Analytics’ chief economist.

The data comes ahead of the U.S. Labor Department’s more comprehensive non-farm payrolls report on Friday, which includes both public and private-sector employment.

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits unexpectedly dropped last week, pointing to a tightening labor market.

“Obviously there are several major events that the market is going to focus on and could cause a bumpy ride for stocks today,” said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at First Standard Financial in New York.

At 9:45 a.m. ET the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 44.07 points, or 0.25 percent, at 17,745.6.

The S&P 500 was down 5.36 points, or 0.26 percent, at 2,093.97 and the Nasdaq Composite was down 9.41 points, or 0.19 percent, at 4,942.84.

Eight of the 10 major S&P sectors were lower, led by the energy index.

Mining equipment maker Joy Global rose 13.5 percent after it reported a surprise adjusted profit for the latest quarter.

Cloud storage provider Box fell 9.1 percent to $11.64 after the company reported a slowdown in billings growth in the first quarter.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,674 to 957. On the Nasdaq, 1,198 issues fell and 1,049 advanced.

The S&P 500 index showed 13 new 52-week highs and no new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 26 new highs and six new lows.

(Reporting by Yashaswini Swamynathan in Bengaluru; Editing by Savio D’Souza)

Wall St. flat as earnings fail to excite investors

Wall Street

By Abhiram Nandakumar

(Reuters) – U.S. stock indexes were flat on Friday after poor quarterly reports from technology bellwethers Microsoft and Alphabet outweighed gains from steadying oil prices.

Microsoft was the biggest drag on all three major indexes.

Crude rose about 1 percent on signs of strong gasoline consumption in the United States. [O/R]

With recent economic data indicating a sluggish pace of economic growth globally and crude prices hovering near five-month highs, earnings have become a swing factor for stocks.

The S&P 500 has staged a sharp recovery from a steep selloff earlier this year and is inching toward its all-time high, helped by a recent rebound in oil, a cautious Federal Reserve and companies beating tempered expectations.

The index is up half a percent for the week, having posted gains on the first three days.

“We’re back to the every other day theory, bouncing around a little, but I don’t see too strong a sentiment either way,” said Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James in St. Petersburg, Florida.

“It’s still a very cautious environment,” Brown said, adding that the negative tone from the quarterly reports were expected.

At 9:42 a.m. ET, the Dow Jones industrial average was up 11.91 points, or 0.07 percent, at 17,994.43, the S&P 500 was down 1.52 points, or 0.07 percent, at 2,089.96 and the Nasdaq Composite was down 35.84 points, or 0.72 percent, at 4,910.05.

Eight of the 10 major S&P sectors were higher, but the index was under pressure by a 1.4 percent decline in the technology sector

Alphabet and Microsoft were down 3.7 and 6.5 percent respectively after both missed profit and revenue estimates.

S&P 500 companies are seen posting a 7.2 percent fall in first-quarter profit, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S, and shares of companies failing to beat the already lowered expectations are getting hammered.

McDonald’s rose 0.7 percent to $126.63 after the company’s profit beat estimates.

General Electric was off 1.1 percent at $30.63 after it reported lower organic revenue.

Caterpillar shares were down 0.6 percent at $78.16 after its results.

Starbucks slipped 3 percent after missing sales expectations, while Visa was down 2.3 percent after it cut full-year revenue forecast.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 1,885 to 761. On the Nasdaq, 1,460 issues rose and 740 fell.

The S&P 500 index showed six new 52-week highs and no new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 19 new highs and six lows.

(Reporting by Abhiram Nandakumar in Bengaluru; Editing by Don Sebastian)