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Consumer prices in US rise for fifth month on shelter, fuel

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The cost of living in the US climbed for a fifth month on the back of shelter and fuel prices, pushing inflation closer to the Federal Reserve's goal.

[WASHINGTON] The cost of living in the US climbed for a fifth month on the back of shelter and fuel prices, pushing inflation closer to the Federal Reserve's goal.

The consumer-price index rose 0.3 per cent in December, matching the median projection of economists, after a 0.2 per cent gain the previous month, Labor Department figures showed Wednesday in Washington. Prices were up 2.1 per cent from a year earlier, the most since June 2014. Excluding volatile food and fuel, the so-called core measure rose 0.2 per cent from November.

With energy moving higher and rents and medical costs continuing to firm up, price pressures are gaining traction in the world's largest economy. Steady demand would allow companies to regain pricing power, further boosting inflation and strengthening the case for the Fed to keep raising interest rates this year.

"Consumer prices have trekked higher over the past few months on the back of higher energy prices," Sam Bullard, senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities LLC in Charlotte, North Carolina, said in a note before the report. The Fed is "well-positioned for multiple rate hikes in 2017" with inflation near target and unemployment below 5 per cent, he wrote.

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Bloomberg survey estimates for the consumer price index ranged from gains of 0.2 per cent to 0.5 per cent.

The year-over-year rise in the consumer price gauge followed a 1.7 per cent advance the prior month.

The core CPI measure increased 2.2 per cent from December 2015, after rising 2.1 per cent in the prior 12-month period. Both the monthly and year-over-year gain matched the median forecasts of economists surveyed by Bloomberg.

The Fed's preferred gauge of inflation, which is the Commerce Department's personal consumption expenditures price measure, rose 1.4 per cent in November from a year earlier; it hasn't matched the central bank's 2 per cent goal since April 2012. Policy makers will next meet Jan 31-Feb 1.

Energy costs increased 1.5 per cent from a month earlier, as gasoline rose 3 per cent, the CPI report showed. Food prices were unchanged for a sixth month.

Expenses for shelter climbed 0.3 per cent, reflecting a similar gain in owners-equivalent rent, one of the categories designed to track rental prices.

Airfares increased 1.9 per cent, the most since June 2015. Americans paid 0.1 per cent more for new automobiles, while used-car prices rose 0.5 per cent, the biggest jump since April 2015. Clothing prices declined 0.7 per cent, the second straight drop.

The CPI is the broadest of three price gauges from the Labor Department because it includes all goods and services. About 60 per cent of the index covers prices consumers pay for services from medical visits to airline fares, movie tickets and rents.

The rising cost of living cut into paychecks in December, a separate report from the Labor Department showed Wednesday. Hourly earnings adjusted for inflation rose 0.1 per cent from the prior month. They were up 0.8 per cent over the past 12 months.

BLOOMBERG

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