US inflation slowed less than expected to 3.1% in January

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US headline inflation slowed to 3.1 per cent in January, a smaller than expected improvement, challenging market expectations that the Federal Reserve will begin cutting interest rates in May.

Economists polled by Bloomberg had forecast annual consumer price inflation of 2.9 per cent, down from 3.4 per cent in December.

Core inflation, a closely watched measure that strips out volatile food and energy prices, was 3.9 per cent year-on-year in January, in line with the previous month.

Monthly headline inflation rose by 0.3 per cent, surpassing the 0.2 per cent forecast.

The figures come as the Fed considers when to start cutting interest rates this year from their current level of 5.25-5.5 per cent.

Following the stronger-than-expected inflation figures, futures traders scaled back their bets on the likelihood of a rate cut in May from 50 per cent to 30 per cent, while bets on a cut in June were no longer fully priced in.

US stock futures dropped sharply following the release, while government bond yields shot higher.

The two-year Treasury yield, which moves with interest rates expectations, jumped 0.15 percentage points to 4.62 per cent. The benchmark 10-year yield added 0.11 percentage points. Yields rise as prices fall.

The dollar, whose movements are influenced by changes in interest rate expectations, traded 0.6 per cent higher.

Futures contracts linked to the S&P 500 extended earlier losses to trade more than 1 per cent lower, while those tracking the tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 were down 1.7 per cent ahead of the New York open.

Shelter costs, vehicle insurance and medical care all contributed to January’s price pressures. Housing, the largest component of which is rental costs, was the biggest contributor to core inflation, with the index increasing 0.6 per cent in January.

The dramatic fall in inflation over the past year has prompted central bankers in the US, Europe and the UK to rule out further rate increases and start discussing the possibility of cuts.

Last month, Fed chair Jay Powell said the Federal Open Market Committee expects to cut interest rates three times this year, but he signalled it is unlikely to begin doing so until more progress has been made towards its 2 per cent inflation target.

The Fed’s preferred measure of inflation is the core personal consumption expenditures index, which has slowed more drastically than CPI. The core PCE index was up 2.9 per cent in January on annual basis, the first reading of less than 3 per cent in about three years.

The Fed’s next policy meeting is scheduled for March 19-20, at which it will release its latest “dot plot” survey showing officials’ projections for interest rates, inflation and unemployment.

This post was originally published on Financial Times

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