Consumer Pricing Index Climbs 0.4 Percent in August

Retail discounts are still influencing consumer pricing, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Consumer Price Index, which measures the average change in prices paid by households over time, reported a 0.4 percent rise for the month of Aug 2009. But the index is still down 1.5 percent for the past 12-month period.

Eighty percent of the monthly gain was attributed to a 9.1 percent jump in gasoline prices, a significant increase over the 0.4 percent decline it saw in July 2009.

Although Ken Stewart, an economist for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, said that “[the bureau] doesn’t have many comments on what [the index] intends for the future,” he mentioned that gasoline pricing is something to keep an eye on in determining whether the August increases will prove to be a one-off or a trend. “Beyond that, it’s really hard to make any definitive assessments.”

The food index rose 0.1 percent, following a 0.3 percent July loss, while food away from home also rose 0.1 percent, after a July decline of 0.5 percent. The meats, poultry, fish and eggs sector under the food-at-home index and sugar and sweets, as well non-alcoholic beverages, each rose 0.4 percent in August. Alcoholic beverages and fats and oils increased by 0.1 percent.

Several categories saw declines continue from last month, including fruits and vegetables (down 0.7 percent) and dairy and related products (down 0.4 percent) as well as cereals and bakery products (down 0.1 percent). The loss marked the ninth consecutive month of decline for dairy and related products.

A modest increase of 0.1 percent was also seen in the core index -- which includes all items, excluding food and energy categories. This gain was mainly attributed to increases in used cars and trucks (1.9 percent) and public transportation (1.3 percent).

Other categories within the core index saw gains, including tobacco and smoking (0.1 percent). Personal care products saw a rise of 0.1 percent; however, those gains were from personal care services (0.1 percent) and miscellaneous personal services (0.2 percent), rather than from the actual products themselves (down 0.3 percent). Apparel (down 0.1 percent) and communication (down 0.2 percent) and commodities (down 0.3 percent) saw declines.

Despite monthly fluctuations, the index has remained fairly consistent month-to-month since the economic meltdown last year, according to Stewart. “Generally speaking, the last quarter of 2008 prices were very much on a downward path. Since January, they’ve been closer to zero … We haven’t really seen anything dramatic since the fourth quarter of last year, when they were falling.”
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