Ahead Of The Bell: US Consumer Prices

The Associated Press

Cheaper gas likely offset more expensive food to limit U.S. consumer price increases last month.

Economists forecast that the consumer price index rose just 0.1 percent in October, according to a survey by FactSet. That's down from 0.6 percent increases in both August and September, which were pushed up by much higher prices at the pump.

Prices excluding volatile food and energy costs are also forecast to have increased 0.1 percent.

The Labor Department will release the consumer price index at 8:30 a.m. EST Thursday.

In the 12 months that ended in September, consumer prices rose 2 percent. That matches the Federal Reserve's inflation target. Core prices also rose 2 percent over the same period.

Modest inflation leaves consumers with more money to spend, which can boost economic growth. Lower inflation makes it easier for the Fed to continue with its efforts to rekindle the economy. If the Fed were worried that prices are rising too fast, it might have to raise interest rates.

Gas prices rose sharply over the summer and into September, but have since come down. The average price for a gallon of gas nationwide was $3.44 on Wednesday, about 35 cents below last month's level.

Most economists forecast that food prices rose last month. This summer's drought damaged corn, soybeans and other crops. Corn and soybeans are used in animal feed, which means the price of meat and chicken could increase.

And corn is also used in many products found throughout the supermarket, from cereals to soft drinks to cosmetics.

The Fed hinted on Wednesday that it could announce a new bond-buying program in December in an effort to spur job growth. The goal of the purchases would be to lower long-term interest rates to encourage more spending and strengthen the economy.

The Fed released minutes from its Oct. 23-24 policy meeting, which suggest that it may unveil a Treasury-buying plan to replace a program that expires at year's end.

There are already some signs that the job market is improving. Employers added 171,000 jobs in October and hiring in August and September was stronger than first estimated, the department said earlier this month. The economy has gained an average of 173,000 jobs a month since July. That's up from 67,000 a month in April through June.

The unemployment rate rose to 7.9 percent in October from 7.8 percent in the previous month. But that is because more Americans began looking for work, possibly because they felt their chances had improved. Not all of them found jobs, which pushed up the unemployment rate.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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