Cheaper gas and food provide some relief from US inflation

U.S. consumer inflation eased in March, with less expensive gas and food providing some relief to households that have struggled under the weight of surging prices, according to an Associated Press report. Yet prices are still rising fast enough to keep the Federal Reserve on track to raise interest rates at least once more, beginning in May.

The government said Wednesday that consumer prices rose just 0.1% from February to March, down from 0.4% from January to February and the smallest increase since December.

Measured from a year earlier, prices were up just 5% in March, down sharply from February’s 6% year-over-year increase and the mildest such rise in nearly two years. Excluding volatile food and energy costs, though, so-called core inflation is still stubbornly high. Core prices rose 0.4% from February to March and 5.6% from a year earlier. The Fed and many private economists regard core prices as a better measure of underlying inflation. The year-over-year figure edged up for the first time in six months.

As goods prices have risen more slowly, helping cool inflation, costs in the nation’s services sector — everything from rents and restaurant meals to haircuts and auto insurance — have jumped, keeping core prices elevated.

Even so, the March data offered some signs that suggest inflation is slowly but steadily headed lower. Rental costs, which have been one of the main drivers of core inflation, rose at the slowest pace in a year. And grocery prices fell for the first time in 2 1/2 years.