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Persistent Inflation Pressures in the US Persist Amidst Soaring Fuel Costs


Consumer prices in the United States experienced a larger-than-expected increase last month, primarily due to elevated expenses related to rent and fuel. The Labor Department reported an inflation rate of 3.7% over the 12 months leading up to August, surpassing the 3.2% rate recorded in July. These numbers emphasize the ongoing challenges faced by officials in their efforts to stabilize prices, as inflation surged at an unprecedented pace last year.

Although the inflation rate has declined considerably from its peak in the previous year, analysts anticipate that the U.S. central bank, which strives to maintain inflation at a 2% target, will remain concerned about the unresolved issue. The central bank has already raised its benchmark interest rate to its highest level in 22 years, setting it in a range of 5.25% to 5.5%, in an attempt to curb price increases. It is scheduled to convene later this month to consider the necessity of further rate hikes.

The report released on Wednesday revealed that the increase in consumer prices from July to August was predominantly driven by surging fuel prices, resulting in a monthly inflation rate of 0.6%, the highest since June 2022. Excluding the volatile categories of food and fuel, prices still rose by 0.3%, exceeding expectations. Housing costs, which many analysts had anticipated would start cooling this year and constitute a significant portion of the U.S. consumer price index, continued to rise for the 40th consecutive month.

Analysts believe that the Federal Reserve is unlikely to raise interest rates at its upcoming meeting, especially given that rate hikes have limited influence over fuel prices, which were the primary contributor to the inflation uptick in August. However, Wednesday's data may prompt the central bank to take action later in the year, according to Charles Hepworth, an investment director at GAM Investments, a Zurich-based asset management group. These latest figures are "unlikely to encourage the Federal Reserve that the necessary cooling in the economy that they are looking for is being achieved as quickly as they want," he remarked. "Energy prices are beyond their control. Despite this, we should expect that a November hike is likely still in play."

Higher interest rates are intended to cool the economy by promoting saving and making it more challenging for households and businesses to secure loans for purposes such as buying homes or expanding operations. In theory, this slowdown should lead to a reduction in price inflation. Despite these efforts, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell cautioned last month that inflation remained "too high." He stated, "We are prepared to raise rates further if appropriate, and intend to hold policy at a restrictive level until we are confident that inflation is moving sustainably down toward our objective."