WASHINGTON: U.S. producer prices increased moderately in July, lifted by a rebound in the cost of energy products, while underlying producer inflation retreated, which could allow the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates again next month.
The benign inflation report from the Labor Department on Friday could boost expectations for a half-percentage-point cut at the Fed's Sept. 17-18 policy meeting. President Donald Trump on Friday urged the U.S. central bank to lower rates by a full percentage point, saying there was "no inflation in our country."
Financial markets have fully priced in a 25-basis-point rate cut following a recent escalation in the bitter trade war between the United States and China, which led to an inversion of the U.S. Treasury yield curve and raised the risk of a recession. Fears about the trade war's impact on the economic expansion, the longest on record, prompted the Fed to lower its short-term rate last week for the first time since 2008.
"Weak producer prices are a reflection of a dramatic slowdown in manufacturing due to the global trade war," said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG in New York. "We expect a second rate cut by the Federal Reserve in September as the manufacturing sector and world economies continue to slow."
The producer price index for final demand rose 0.2per cent last month after nudging up 0.1per cent in June, the government said. In the 12 months through July the PPI increased 1.7per cent after advancing by the same margin in June. Last month's increase in the PPI was in line with economists' expectations.
Excluding the volatile food, energy and trade services components, producer prices edged down 0.1per cent last month. That was the first decline since October 2015 and followed an unchanged reading in June. The so-called core PPI increased 1.7per cent in the 12 months through July, the smallest gain since January 2017, after rising 2.1per cent in June.
The Fed, which has a 2per cent inflation target, tracks the core personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index for monetary policy. The core PCE price index increased 1.6per cent on a year-on-year basis in June and has undershot its target this year.
Data next week is likely to show moderate gains in consumer prices in July, according to a Reuters survey of economists.
The dollar slipped against a basket of currencies, while U.S. Treasury prices rose slightly. U.S. stocks fell as investors grappled with fresh trade-related tensions.
WEAK SERVICES COSTS
U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods so far have had a marginal impact on inflation as they have mostly been on capital goods.
That could change after Trump announced last week an additional 10per cent tariff on US$300 billion worth of Chinese imports starting Sept. 1. The new tariffs would affect mostly consumer goods. Trump said on Friday talks continued between the two countries, but added, "I am not ready to make a deal."
"The next round of tariffs on Chinese imports could have a more notable impact on finished goods prices, given that they will cover a much greater share of finished consumer goods with few alternatives," said Andrew Hunter, a senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics in London. "But it all depends on how aggressively the Chinese allow their currency to depreciate."
China let its currency, the yuan, slide past the key 7-per-dollar level on Monday for the first time since 2008.
In July, U.S. wholesale energy prices rebounded 2.3per cent after falling 3.1per cent in the prior month. They were boosted by a 5.2per cent percent jump in gasoline prices. Goods prices increased 0.4per cent last month, reversing June's 0.4per cent decline.
Energy prices accounted for more than 80per cent of the rebound in the cost of goods last month. Wholesale food prices rose 0.2per cent in July after advancing 0.6per cent in June. Core goods prices edged up 0.1per cent after being unchanged for three straight months.
The cost of services fell 0.1per cent in July, the first decrease since January, after rising 0.4per cent in June. Services were pulled down by a 4.3per cent drop in the cost of hotel and motel rooms.
The cost of healthcare services edged up 0.1per cent last month after rising 0.2per cent in June. The cost of doctor visits dropped 0.5per cent last month, the most since January 2016, after being unchanged in June. Hospital outpatient care prices surged 0.7per cent, the largest increase since January 2018. But the cost of hospital inpatient care fell 0.2per cent.
Portfolio management fees rebounded 0.8per cent after falling 1.8per cent in June. Those fees and healthcare costs feed into the core PCE price index, leading economists to expect not much of a change in the inflation measure in July.
"The PPI signals that the medical care PCE price index will be soft in July, likely coming out basically unchanged relative to June," said Daniel Silver, an economist at JPMorgan in New York.
(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao)