Inflation Rises 0.2% in February, Leaving Prices Up 2.2% Over Past Year

The U.S. Labor Department said Tuesday, March 13, that consumer prices rose 0.2% in February, pushing the gauge up 2.2% over the past 12 months as an accelerating economy leads to higher inflation. 

The increases were in line with economists' expectations, based on a survey by data provider FactSet. The reading showed a decrease from January's month-over-month price jump of 0.5%, but an acceleration from the prior year-over-year reading of 2%. The month-over-month decrease was driven by declines in prices for gasoline and fuel oil, the report showed.

Excluding food and energy, the consumer price index, or CPI, rose 0.2%, for a 1.8% increase over the past year, the Labor Department said. 

Traders have been eyeing inflation reports closely to monitor whether the Federal Reserve will continue its gradual pace of rate increases to keep the economy from overheating and price increases from spiraling out of control.

Fed policymakers have been flummoxed by stubbornly low inflation readings, even with unemployment low and President Donald Trump's tax cuts set to deliver a windfall to U.S. companies. Demand for workers typically leads to wage increases, seen as a key driver of consumer price increases. 

The central bank's monetary-policy committee raised interest rates three times in 2017, bringing the target to a range of 1.25% to 1.5% from near zero before the central bank started the current hiking cycle in late 2015. A rate increase at a Fed meeting this month is deemed by most traders to be a near certainty.

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