Producer prices unexpectedly fall in US; goods deflation underway - GulfToday

Producer prices unexpectedly fall in US; goods deflation underway


People shop in a supermarket in Manhattan, New York. File/ Reuters

US producer prices unexpectedly fell in December amid declining costs for goods such as diesel fuel and food, suggesting inflation would continue to subside and allow the Federal Reserve to start cutting interest rates this year.

The report from the Labor Department on Friday also showed prices for services were unchanged for the third straight month, another boost in the US central bank’s fight against inflation.

With supply chains mostly normalised after severe disruptions during the COVID-19 pandemic, services are now at the core of the inflation battle.

Services inflation, partly driven by a tight labour market, is less responsive to rate hikes.

“The inflation pipeline is clearing and consumer prices will gradually get to the Fed’s 2 per cent target,” said Jeffrey Roach, chief economist at LPL Financial in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The producer price index for final demand dipped 0.1 per cent last month, the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics said. Data for November was revised to show the PPI falling 0.1 per cent instead of being unchanged as previously reported. The PPI has now declined for three consecutive months.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the PPI rebounding 0.1 per cent. Good prices dropped 0.4 per cent, with a 12.4 per cent decline in the cost of diesel fuel accounting for half of the decrease. Goods prices fell 0.3 per cent in November. Food prices slipped 0.9 per cent last month, with the cost of eggs tumbling 20.5 per cent, but reversing only a fraction of the 71.2 per cent surge in November. Wholesale passenger car prices fell 3.0 per cent. But gasoline prices increased 2.1 per cent.

In the 12 months through December, the PPI increased 1.0 per cent after advancing 0.8 per cent in November.

Data on Thursday showed consumer prices increased more than expected in December, driven by solid gains in shelter and healthcare costs. Financial markets remain hopeful that the Federal Reserve will start cutting interest rates in March.

The U.S. central bank has hiked its policy rate by 525 basis points to the current 5.25 per cent-5.50 per cent range since March 2022.

Services prices were curbed by declines in margins for machinery and motor vehicle wholesaling. Prices for hotel and motel rooms, transporting freight by road, automobiles and parts retailing, and apparel wholesaling also fell. But portfolio management fees rebounded. Airline fares also rose.

Portfolio management fees, hotel and motel accommodation are components in the calculation of the personal consumption expenditures price indexes, the inflation measures tracked by the Fed for its inflation target. The narrower measure of PPI, which strips out food, energy and trade services components, rose 0.2 per cent in December after gaining 0.1 per cent in the prior month. The so-called core PPI rose 2.5 per cent on a year-on-year basis after increasing 2.4 per cent in November.

Meanwhile Bank of America’s fourth quarter profit shrank as the lender took $3.7 billion in one-off charges on Friday, and its finance chief expressed optimism about the US economic outlook.

Prospects for the US economy have brightened after the Federal Reserve paused interest rate increases late last year. It is now expected to cut rates this year.

“We feel pretty good about the economy,” Chief Financial Officer Alastair Borthwick said on a call with reporters.

“The consumers still have plenty of firepower” in a strong labour market, he said.

Shares of the second-largest US lender fell nearly 3 per cent in premarket trading on Friday after it posted net income of $3.1 billion, or 35 cents a share, for the three months ended Dec.31. That compares with $7.1 billion, or 85 cents a share, a year earlier. Excluding two charges related to replenishing a fund for bank failures and phasing out an interest rate benchmark used in some commercial loan contracts, the bank reported a profit of 70 cents, slightly above LSEG estimates of 68 cents.

BofA managed to offset some declines with strong gains in trading and investment banking.

Trading revenue rose 1 per cent to $3.8 billion in the fourth quarter, driven by a 12 per cent jump in revenue from equities, while a pickup in dealmaking in the fourth quarter pushed up investment banking fees 7 per cent to $1.1 billion.

The bank’s net interest income (NII) - the difference between what banks earn from loans and pay to depositors - fell 5% to $13.9 billion after a windfall year in 2023.

BofA expects NII to dip to a trough in the first half of this year and grow in the second half, CEO Brian Moynihan told investors last month, as lower rates push down the interest income that banks make off loans.

Loans are expected to grow at low to mid-single-digit percentage in 2024, after expanding nearly 0.8 per cent in the fourth quarter.

BofA took a pre-tax charge of $2.1 billion in the fourth quarter to pay a “special assessment” fee to replenish a Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) fund that was drained by $16 billion to cover depositors of two banks that collapsed in 2023.

The bank also took a charge of about $1.6 billion in the fourth quarter as it phases out a Bloomberg interest rate benchmark used in some commercial loan contracts.

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