The Bureau of Labor Statistics said that producer prices for final demand goods and services were unchanged in August, continuing the easing in inflationary pressures seen in July. More importantly, producer prices for final demand goods were down 0.3 percent in August, with costs for both food and energy lower for the month. Energy prices fell for the second straight month(down 1.5 percent), consistent with the drop in the price of West Texas intermediate (WTI) crude oil from $106.07 per barrel at the end of July to $98.23 at the end of August. (WTI closed at $92.92 per barrel yesterday, indicating that there will be a further deceleration in this measure in September.)
Meanwhile, food prices decreased 0.5 percent in August. After rising 5.4 percent from December to April, producer prices for final demand food products have eased by 0.8 percent. As such, the cost of food remained 4.5 percent higher in August than at the start of the year. This has largely stemmed from higher prices for meats, eggs, dairy and produce. The largest price declines in August were seen in eggs, fish, oilseeds, pasta products and pork.
Beyond food and energy, core prices for final demand goods were unchanged. Higher monthly costs for footwear, heavy motor trucks, mobile homes, paper industries machinery, pet food and toys were offset by lower prices in computers, household appliances, metal forming machinery, office equipment, passenger cars and women’s apparel.
On an annual basis, producer prices for final demand goods and services have increased 1.8 percent over the past 12 months. This represents a decline from the 2.0 percent observed in May but an acceleration from December’s 1.1 percent pace. Likewise, core inflation – which excludes food and energy costs – for final demand goods and services has increased 1.8 percent year-over-year in August, up from 1.6 percent in July.
Overall, this report suggests that pricing pressures have accelerated from earlier in the year, but inflationary growth has eased slightly over the past couple months. Core inflation remains below the Federal Reserve’s stated threshold of 2 percent. This indicates the inflation remains in-check, at least for now, and the recent deceleration should ease the pressure on the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) to expedite its plans to normalize rates. With the FOMC meeting concluding tomorrow, we will get a better sense of its intentions with its latest statement. Of course, the final decision to raise short-term rates will likely hinge on economic data in the months to come.
Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.