The cost of living in the U.S. probably rose in February as gasoline prices climbed, economists said before a report today.
The consumer-price index increased 0.4 percent, the most in 10 months, after advancing 0.2 percent in January, according to the median forecast of 79 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News. The so-called core, which excludes volatile food and energy expenses, may have climbed 0.2 percent for a second month. Industrial production probably rebounded in February, another report may show.
Filling up an automobile’s gas tank in February cost the most in five months, leaving households with less money to spend on other goods and services. Federal Reserve policy makers, who project the jump in fuel will be temporary, see little risk inflation will flare out of control as unemployment in excess of 8 percent makes companies less willing to charge more.
“Rising gasoline prices aren’t a good thing because households cannot avoid them,” said Paul Dales, a senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics Ltd. in London. “But outside of that, inflation isn’t going to really rock the boat too much for too many households.”
The Labor Department’s data is due at 8:30 a.m. in Washington. Economists’ estimates ranged from increases of 0.2 percent to 0.6 percent.
The median forecast would mean consumer prices climbed 2.9 percent over the past 12 months, matching the gain in January as the smallest since March 2011. The core index is projected to increase 2.2 percent from February 2011, down from the 2.3 percent in the year to January.
Output at the nation’s factories, mines and utilities climbed 0.4 percent last month after no change in January, according to the median forecast in a Bloomberg survey before a Fed report at 9:15 a.m. in Washington. Stronger retail sales and sustained corporate investment in new equipment are bolstering manufacturers, which have been leading the expansion.
Oil prices have soared because of tensions in the Middle East. Crude oil for April delivery was $105.37 a barrel at the close yesterday on the New York Mercantile Exchange, up 6.6 percent so far this year.
The escalation in oil prices has pushed up the cost of gasoline. Regular fuel in February averaged $3.56 a gallon, or 18 cents more than January, according to AAA, the nation’s biggest auto group. It was the highest monthly average since September.
The cost of the fuel has kept climbing, reaching $3.82 on March 14, the highest in 10 months.
Fed on Energy
The Fed, nonetheless, said it anticipates that the pressure on consumer prices from energy will wane later in the year.
“Inflation has been subdued in recent months although prices of crude oil and gasoline have increased lately,” the Federal Open Market Committee said in a statement following a March 13 meeting. Oil will “push up inflation temporarily, but the committee anticipates that subsequently inflation will run at or below the rate that it judges most consistent with its dual mandate” of stable prices and maximum employment.
The central bank’s preferred inflation gauge, the measure calculated by the Commerce Department and tied to consumer spending, rose at a 1.2 percent annual rate in the fourth quarter. Fed officials have set an explicit inflation goal of 2 percent.
A Labor Department report yesterday showed prices paid to producers rose 0.4 percent in February, paced by the gain in energy expenses. Import prices, reported March 14, also climbed 0.4 percent.
“We feel like inflation will moderate,” Charles Holley, chief financial officer at Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT), said during a March 7 investor conference. “The one wildcard, though, is going to be gas prices. If oil continues to go up, I think that could be a drag on economies around the world.”
The CPI is the broadest of the three monthly price measures from the Labor Department because it includes goods and services. About 60 percent of the CPI covers prices consumers pay for services ranging from medical visits to airline fares and movie tickets