Inflation cooled slightly in April, ending monthslong surge in prices

ByMax Zahn ABCNews logo
Wednesday, May 15, 2024 5:11PM
Inflation cooled slightly in April, ending monthslong surge in prices
Consumer prices rose 3.4% in April compared to a year ago.

Consumer prices rose 3.4% in April compared to a year ago, slowing slightly from the previous month and offering a welcome sign for the Federal Reserve in its yearslong inflation fight. The fresh data matched economists' expectations.

After falling dramatically over the course of last year, inflation had accelerated in recent months. Recalcitrant prices forced the Fed to postpone highly anticipated interest rate cuts, leaving borrowing rates high for everything from credit cards to mortgages.

Price increases have slowed significantly from a peak of about 9%, but inflation still stands more than a percentage point higher than the Federal Reserve's target rate of 2%.

The latest finding indicated a mild cooldown from the 3.5% annual inflation rate recorded in March.

Core inflation -- a closely watched measure that strips out volatile food and energy prices -- increased 3.6% over the year ending in March, slowing slightly from the previous month, the data showed.

Roughly 70% of the monthly increase in consumer prices was because of an uptick in gasoline and housing costs, the BLS said.

Food prices rose at a much slower pace than overall inflation, making up a bright spot in the report. Prices for some grocery store staples fell in April compared to a year ago, including bread, poultry and eggs.

Prices for breakfast sausage and ice cream, on the other hand, increased at a pace near the level of overall inflation.

In response to elevated prices, the Fed earlier this month opted to hold interest rates steady for the sixth consecutive time, keeping them at a level last seen in 2001. For now, the Fed has all but abandoned its previous forecast of three quarter-point rate cuts this year.

Speaking at a financial conference in Amsterdam on Tuesday, Fed Chair Jerome Powell said inflation has remained higher than expected, putting pressure on the central bank to leave its high interest rates in place.

"We did not expect this to be a smooth road," Powell told attendees at an annual gathering of the Foreign Bankers' Association. "But these [inflation readings] were higher than I think anybody expected. What that has told us is that we'll need to be patient and let restrictive policy do its work."

In theory, high borrowing costs weigh on consumer and business spending, which in turn slows the economy and reduces demand.

In recent months, the economy has shown signs of a slowdown. A worse-than-expected jobs report this month showed that employers hired 175,000 people in April, a significant drop off from the previous month.

The underwhelming jobs report sent the stock market higher since investors took it as indication that the Fed may rekindle plans for interest rate cuts.

Gross domestic product, a measure of all the goods and services produced in the economy, recorded 1.6% annual growth over the first three months of the year, the Commerce Department said last month. That figure marked a steep slowdown from a 3.4% annual rate measured over the final quarter of last year.

Despite the slowdown, economic output and hiring remain solid. The burst of stubborn price increases, meanwhile, has only lasted a few months.

The outlook for prices defies easy predictions, Powell said in Amsterdam on Tuesday.

"Is inflation going to be more persistent going forward?" Powell said. "I don't think we know that yet."

"I think we need more than a quarter's worth of data to really make a judgment on that," he added.