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US housing costs drive modest gain in Oct inflation

[WASHINGTON] The rising costs of housing and medical care drove a modest gain in US consumer inflation last month, according to official figures published Wednesday.

And within the data, one key measure of annual inflation posted its first increase since January, giving a flicker of hope to US central bankers who have long awaited the return of price pressures.

The Federal Reserve is widely expected to raise the benchmark interest rate next month even though monetary policymakers have acknowledged the mystifying weakness of inflation despite falling unemployment and steady job growth.

Meanwhile, the US retail sector eked out a token increase in October as sales of gasoline and building supplies retreated even while auto sales remained strong, according to a separate government report.

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The continued gains in consumer spending could support GDP growth in the final quarter of 2017, which has remained robust despite massive disruption from back-to-back hurricanes.

The Consumer Price Index, which tracks costs for household goods and services, rose just 0.1 per cent compared to September, the Labor Department reported. When volatile food and fuel costs are excluded, the "core" CPI posted a stronger 0.2 per cent gain.

Both results were in line with analyst expectations.

Year-on-year, CPI was up two percent, in line with the central bank's target, but down from 2.2 per cent in September.

Notably, the 12-month "core" measure accelerated to 1.8 per cent from 1.7 per cent in September, marking the first increase since January when the rate was 2.3 per cent.

Most of October's gain was due to a 0.3 per cent jump in prices for shelter and medical care.

Meanwhile, retail sales rose at a slower pace, which was expected following a boom in September, when consumer spending hit a two-year high as motorists rushed to replace cars destroyed by Hurricane Harvey, according to the Commerce Department report.

American consumers forked out US$486.6 billion, up just 0.2 per cent from September, but still 4.6 per cent above October of last year. That increase was twice what economists had forecast.

Spending again was lifted by auto sales, which rose a solid 0.7 per cent, the same increase recorded at furniture and electronics stores. But gas stations and building materials both saw a 1.2 per cent drops.

Excluding the volatile auto segment, sales rose by a more subdued 0.1 per cent, surprising economists, who had expected to see twice the gain. Excluding both autos and gasoline, sales rose 0.3 per cent.

Non-store retailers like Amazon and Jet, which have risen consistently in recent years, declined by 0.3 per cent for the month.