US Annual Inflation Rate Slows; Shelter Costs Remain Elevated

The latest inflation reading comes ahead of a critical Federal Reserve policy meeting.
US Annual Inflation Rate Slows; Shelter Costs Remain Elevated
A woman shops in an Aldi supermarket in Albany, Western Australia, on Feb. 1, 2024. (Susan Mortimer/The Epoch Times)
Andrew Moran

The U.S. annual inflation rate slowed in May, defying economists’ expectations and providing Federal Reserve policymakers hope that progress on inflation has been revived.

Last month, the consumer price index eased to 3.3 percent, from 3.4 percent in April. This was slightly below the market forecast of 3.4 percent but represented the 38th consecutive month of inflation above 3 percent.

Inflation was zero percent monthly and below the consensus estimate of 0.1 percent.

Core CPI, which strips the volatile energy and food components, slowed to 3.4 percent in May, from 3.6 percent in the previous month. That was also below the market estimate of 3.5 percent.

Additionally, the 3- and 6-month annualized core CPI fell to 3.3 percent and 3.8 percent, respectively.

Core inflation rose at a smaller-than-expected pace of 0.2 percent, down from 0.3 percent.

Services inflation also dipped to 5.2 percent in May, the first monthly decline since January.

Supercore inflation, which excludes housing and is the Fed’s preferred measurement, was unchanged monthly and eased to 4.8 percent year-over-year.

Looking ahead, Cleveland Fed’s Inflation Nowcasting model expects next month’s CPI to slow to 3.2 percent. Core inflation is estimated to rise to 3.7 percent.

John Lynch, the chief investment officer of Comerica Wealth Management, anticipates further moderation this year, with “inflation hovering in the 3 percent range this year.”

“Yet recent signs of moderation have emerged and a closer look into GDP, inflation, and employment indicates the potential for some moderation in the months ahead,” Mr. Lynch wrote in a research note, adding that these developments should “calm fears that the Fed might require another rate hike to tame persistent pricing pressures.”
The Fed completed its two-day monetary policy meeting on June 12. It kept its key interest rate unchanged again and scaled back its forecast from three rate cuts to just one this year after inflation picked up in early 2024.

Automobiles, Shelter, and Oil Prices

The energy index fell 2 percent monthly and eased to 3.7 percent in the 12 months ending in May. Gasoline prices declined 3.5 percent and fell to 2.2 percent year-over-year. Electricity costs were unchanged in May and stayed at an annualized rate of 5.9 percent.

While crude oil prices have advanced around 7 percent in the past week, they experienced an immense decline in May as the war risk premium from Middle East tensions eroded gains. The decline in the oil benchmark helped gasoline prices tumble even as the busy summer driving season began.

On June 12, a barrel of West Texas Intermediate crude oil is about $79 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The average price for a gallon of gas is roughly $3.45, according to the American Automobile Association.

In other news for drivers, motor vehicle insurance dipped 0.1 percent from April to May, is still more than 20 percent higher compared to the same time a year ago.

CPI data has highlighted how much motor vehicle insurance has increased, fueled by high automobile prices, rising car repair costs, and a jump in disaster-related claims.

Last month, new vehicles tumbled 0.5 percent month-over-month, and are down 0.8 percent in the 12 months ending in May.

Used cars climbed 0.6 percent monthly but the subcategory is down 9.3 percent year-over-year.

Shelter continues to remain elevated in the CPI report, rising 0.4 percent and climbing for the fourth straight month. On a year-over-year basis, the shelter category is up 5.4 percent.

Industry data show that there is little relief on the way for tenants.

Zillow data show that the median rent is $2,148, up slightly more than 2 percent from May. This is little changed from the same time a year ago.
In addition, Redfin reported that the median U.S. asking rent rose by 0.8 percent year-over-year to $1,653 in May, the highest level since October 2022. Moreover, rents climbed 0.5 percent month-over-month.

The good news is that growth has flatlined “because there are enough new apartments to meet demand, even in the busiest time of year for the rental market,” the residential real estate services firm noted.

Public policymakers, including Fed Chair Jerome Powell, have insisted for the past 18 months that shelter costs will come down by now.

When pressed by reporters at the post-meeting press conference in May regarding housing costs, Mr. Powell conceded that there was a “little bit of uncertainty.”

“There’s real confidence that they will show up eventually over time, but again, uncertainty by the exact timing,” the central bank chief stated.

Market Reaction

Stocks mostly rose on June 12 as investors digested the latest reading on inflation and the Fed held interest rates unchanged and also projected just one rate cut this year, fewer than markets had been anticipating.

U.S. Treasury yields were mostly red across the board. The benchmark 10-year yield fell to 4.31 percent. The 2- and 30-year yields slumped to 4.75 percent and 4.47 percent, respectively.

The U.S. Dollar Index, a gauge of the greenback against a basket of currencies, tanked 0.47 percent following the CPI report, to below 105.

Investors cheered on the data because it could improve the odds of a rate cut, says Giuseppe Sette, the president of market research services firm Toggle AI.

“Chances of a 2024 rate cut remain balanced,” he said. “Inflation is certainly not rising, but neither is it falling fast. With a strong and healthy job market, the Fed can stick to its historical playbook and keep rates well above CPI.”

Nevertheless, the “war against inflation continues,” notes Mark Hamrick, the senior economic analyst at Bankrate.

“Higher for longer with rates remains the mantra concerning monetary policy, meaning that borrowing costs will remain elevated in the near-term,” Mr. Hamrick said in a statement.

Andrew Moran has been writing about business, economics, and finance for more than a decade. He is the author of "The War on Cash."