Core inflation measures look promising despite bloated August gas prices

A spike in gas prices pushed up inflation in August, yet most other costs rose at a more modest pace, evidence that consumer price increases overall are still cooling, the Associated Press reports.

In a set of conflicting data today, the Labor Department said the consumer price index rose 3.7% in August from a year ago, up from a 3.2% annual pace in July, yet excluding the volatile food and energy categories, so-called core prices rose 4.3%, down from 4.7% in July and the smallest increase in nearly two years. That remains far from the Federal Reserve’s 2% target.

Despite the seemingly divergent figures, the decline in the core measure could add to optimism that inflation is coming under control. The Federal Reserve closely tracks core prices because they are seen as a better indicator of future inflation trends. Wednesday’s figures also make it more likely the Fed will skip an interest rate hike at its meeting next week. While more expensive gas could elevate inflation this month as well, most economists forecast that inflation will slowly decline through the end of the year.

On a monthly basis, consumer prices jumped 0.6% in August, the biggest increase in more than a year. Gas prices spiked nearly 11% in August, though they have since leveled off. According to AAA, the average nationwide price at the pump was $3.84 on Tuesday, little changed from a month ago.

Excluding food and energy, core prices increased just 0.3% in August from July.