Inflation is essentially nonexistent.
That was the case in March, based on a report Monday from the U.S. Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis, in a new sign that the Federal Reserve currently faces few inflationary pressures despite an unexpectedly quick acceleration in the U.S. economy during the first part of this year.
The core price index for personal consumption expenditures was unchanged in March from February levels, the bureau said in a press release. Economists, on average, had predicted an increase of 0.15% during the month, according to the data provider FactSet.
Over the past six months, the core price index had increased at a steady clip of 0.1% to 0.2% per month, and over the past year the index is up just 1.6% -- the slowest annual pace in more than a year. The core index excludes food and energy items, whose prices can swing widely and frequently.
A separate report last week showed that U.S. economic growth unexpectedly accelerated to 3.2% during the first quarter from 2.2% in the fourth quarter of 2018.
Top officials at the Federal Reserve, who set benchmark U.S. interest rates under the central bank's mandate of keeping inflation under control, have indicated plans to keep rates at their current level for the rest of the year -- as long as consumer prices aren't spiking.
In March, Fed officials, on average, said they expected the bureau's core price index to climb by 2% this year, suggesting they see inflation accelerating later in the year.
The central bank usually raises rates when inflation is creeping up in an effort to cool economic activity by making it more expensive for businesses and households to take out new loans or rack up credit-card balances.
Some economists have cautioned that the recent uptick in U.S. growth could lead to higher inflation in the future.
The national unemployment rate, currently at 3.8%, is close to the lowest in a half-century, and a scarcity of available workers typically leads to higher wages. Such pay increases often lead to higher consumer prices, since businesses usually try to recoup their added labor costs.
Energy prices jumped by 3.6% in March, according to the bureau's report Monday, leaving the all-items price index up 0.2% during the month, the bureau's report showed.