September Consumer Price Index Down 0.2% on Lower Energy Prices

Despite higher prices for food and shelter, the consumer price index fell in September on significantly lower energy costs.  The Consumer Price Index Summary from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated that seasonally adjusted prices fell 0.2% in September after falling 0.1% in August and rising monthly since March.  The unadjusted CPI-U, which was set with prices of the 1982 to 1984 period equal to 100, fell to 237.945 in September from 238.316 in August, which left it statistically unchanged from the 238.031 reading of September of last year.   Regionally, prices for urban consumers have risen 1.0% in the West, while they have fallen 0.4% in the South, 0.8% in the Midwest and 0.1% in the Northeast over the past year, with greater increases within regions in cities of more than 1,500,000 people.  Since lower energy prices were the major reason for the drop in the overall CPI index, core prices, which exclude food and energy, rose by 0.2% in September, as the unadjusted core index rose from 242.651 to 243.359, a level 1.89% ahead of its year ago reading of 238.841.

The seasonally adjusted energy price index fell by 4.7% in September after falling by 2.0% in August and the energy index is now 18.4% lower than it was in September a year ago.   Prices for energy commodities were 8.6% lower in September while the index for energy services saw a 0.4% decrease, the 4th drop for services in the last five months.  The decrease in the energy commodity index was driven by a 9.0% drop in the price of gasoline, the largest component, while fuel oil prices fell 2.4% and prices for other fuels, including propane, kerosene and firewood, averaged a 1.1% decrease.  Within energy services, the index for utility gas service fell by 0.3%, leaving utility gas priced 12.1% below a year ago, while the electricity price index fell by 0.5%, after it rose by 0.3% in August. Energy commodities are now priced 29.5% below their year ago levels, with gasoline now 29.6% lower than it was a year ago, while the energy services price index is now 3.0% lower than last September, as electricity prices have also fallen 0.4% over that period. 

The seasonally adjusted food index rose by 0.4% in September, after rising 0.2% in both July and in August, as prices for food at home rose 0.3% while prices for food away from home rose 0.5% on a 7.2% increase in school lunches, while average prices at fast food outlets rose 0.4% and rose 0.2% at full service restaurants.  The increase in prices for food at home was driven by 0.7% increases in dairy products and fruits and vegetables, while the miscellaneous "other food at home" index rose 0.8%. The dairy products index increase appears to be a seasonal adjustment artifact, as only milk prices rose as much as 0.6%, while the fruit and vegetable index increase was caused by a 0.9% increase in prices for fresh fruit including a 2.8% increase in apple prices and a 1.0% increase in prices for fresh vegetables including a 4.7% increase in lettuce prices while the price index for processed fruit and vegetable was unchanged.  In the 'other food at home' category, soup prices were up 1.6%, sauces and gravies rose 2.5%, prepared salads rose 2.1% and peanut butter prices were 1.3% higher.  Meanwhile, the index for cereals and bakery products was 0.2% lower as rice prices fell 1.8% and breakfast cereals averaged 1.7% lower while white bread prices were up 1.4%, and the index for meat, poultry, fish and eggs fell 0.3% on a 3.0% drop in chicken prices and 1.3% lower beef roasts while bacon prices rose 3.5%.  While egg prices were 0.6% lower in September, they remain 36.2% higher than a year ago, while ham prices are now down 11.1% year over year.  In the last food category, the index for beverages and beverage materials was down 0.1% as tea prices fell 1.4% while non-carbonated juices rose 0.5%.  The itemized list for price changes in over 100 separate food items is included at the beginning of Table 2, which gives us a line item breakdown for prices of more than 200 CPI items overall...

Among the seasonally adjusted core components of the CPI, which rose by 0.2% in September, the composite of all commodities less food and energy commodities was unchanged, while the composite for all services less energy services rose by 0.3%.  Among the commodity components, the index for household furnishings and supplies rose 0.3% on a 1.9% increase in infant's furniture and a 1.3% increase in laundry equipment.   Apparel prices were down 0.3% on a 3.7% lower prices for girls apparel and 0.9% lower prices for women's apparel including 2.9% lower prices for dresses.  Prices of transportation commodities were down 0.1% on 0.2% lower prices for new and used cars while car parts other than tires rose 0.8%.   Prices for medical care commodities were down 0.2% on 0.2% lower prices for both drugs and medical supplies, and recreational commodities were 0.3% higher on a 0.6% increase in prices for pets and pet supplies.  The index for education and communication commodities rose 0.1% despite 3.2% lower prices for phone hardware as personal computers cost 0.8% more and prices for college textbooks rose 0.7%, and the indices for both alcoholic beverages and for other goods both rose 0.1%.

Within services, the price index for shelter rose 0.3% on a 0.4% increase in rents and an 0.8% increase in lodging away from home.  The medical care services INDEX rose 0.3% on 0.3% higher doctor bills and 0.4% higher glasses and eye care.  Transportation services rose 0.1% on 0.5% higher vehicle insurance while car and truck rentals fell 3.3%, and recreation services fell 0.1% despite a 2.3% increase in video rentals as admission to sporting events was 1.8% lower. Prices for education and communication services were 0.3% higher on 0.4% higher postage and 0.3% higher tuition and telephone services, and other personal services rose 0.3% on a 0.9% increase in legal fees. Other than the aforementioned ham and eggs and energy prices, only telephones, which are now down 15.8%, and televisions, which are 13.6% cheaper, saw their prices change by more than 10% over the past year.

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