WASHINGTON, May 15 — US consumer inflation eased slightly last month, according to government data published today, in a positive sign for President Joe Biden ahead of November’s election.

The data supports his administration’s messaging that the US economy has turned a corner, as it looks to quell consumers’ concerns about the impact of rising prices going into the likely rematch against former president Donald Trump.

“I know many families are struggling, and that even though we’ve made progress we have a lot more to do,” Biden said in a statement, adding: “Prices are still too high.”

The annual consumer price index (CPI) came in at 3.4 per cent in April, down 0.1 percentage point from March, the Labor Department said in a statement.

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This was in line with the median forecast of economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal.

Monthly inflation came in at 0.3 percent, slightly below expectations.

“This is a welcome moderation in consumer prices in April –- especially after the elevated reading that we’ve had in the first quarter,” Nationwide Chief Economist Kathy Bostjancic told AFP.

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She added that the data “keeps alive the prospect” of a first Federal Reserve interest rate cut in September.

Core CPI slows further

The April CPI data marks the first month of slowing annual data since January, although both the annual and monthly figures remain too high.

“The index for shelter rose in April, as did the index for gasoline,” the Labor Department said in a statement.

“Combined, these two indexes contributed over seventy per cent of the monthly increase in the index for all items,” it added.

The gasoline index jumped by 2.8 per cent from a month earlier, while shelter prices increased by 0.4 per cent.

In more good news for US consumers, a widely-watched inflation measure excluding volatile food and energy prices also eased last month, rising at an annual rate of 3.6 percent, down from 3.8 per cent in March.

This marked its lowest annual rate since April 2021, according to Labor Department data, and suggests the overall inflationary picture is moving firmly in the right direction.

The so-called “core” inflation index rose 0.3 per cent in April from a month earlier, according to the Labor Department, also slightly lower than in March.

Good for the Fed

As well as being good news for the Biden administration, Wednesday’s CPI data also supports the US Federal Reserve as it mulls when to start lowering interest rates from their current 23-year high.

The US central bank has been locked in a battle against inflation, hiking rates and holding them in a bid to bring it back down firmly to its long-term target of two percent.

“We think the data support the case for a patient approach on policy decisions from the Fed going forward although the base case remains one of lower rates this year,” High Frequency Economics chief US economist Rubeela Farooqi wrote in a note to clients.

Bostjancic from Nationwide called the April CPI data “encouraging,” but said the Fed would likely want to see more evidence that inflation was moving down towards target before they start cutting rates.

Nationwide expects the US central bank to make two interest rate cuts this year, with the first coming in September.

This is one less than Fed policymakers penciled in back in March, when they predicted three quarter percentage-point cuts this year.

Futures traders have raised their expectations of a September rate cut in recent days, and now put the chances of a cut by mid-September at close to 70 percent, according to data from CME Group. — AFP