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U.S. Producer Prices Post Biggest Drop in Two Years

Gold prices have held steady following the Labor Department’s Producer Price Index report (PPI) which fell 0.2% in December after a 0.1% rise in November. The PPI is used as a key measure of inflation in the US economy, and the most recent report indicates the biggest drop since August 2016.

Key Takeaways

  • The drop in inflation pressure was 0.2% compared to 0.1% forecast by economists.
  • Producer prices rose 2.5% for the year, the same seen in 2017.
  • Inflation pressure was mostly brought down by the fall in energy prices – the energy index dropped 5.4% last month.
  • Annual core PPI was 2.7% vs 2.9% expected.

Removing the volatile energy and food prices, the core PPI dropped 0.11% after November’s 0.3% rise, while consensus forecasts had predicted an increase of 0.2%. The core PPI has remained relatively consistent in the twelve months through December.

The PPI is a gauge of wholesale inflation viewed as a core indicator because when costs for producers increase, they tend to pass the rising prices on to their customers. This allows economists to get an early pre-market glimpse into the likely rate of upcoming inflation.

The drop is the biggest seen since August 2016, and the first decline since February 2017. Inflation remains tame despite a strong labor market and increasing wages and assurances from the Federal Reserve that rate hikes will be introduced patiently this year depending on economic conditions.

The report released at the same time as the Empire State Manufacturing Index, which also showed weaker-than-expected data, drastically missing the predicted mark and dropping 18 points in 2 months.

Price Data

Wholesale energy prices dropped 5.4% last month after dropping 5% in November. Gasoline prices fell 13.1% after dropping 14% in November, and these two drops have contributed to the reduced PPI overall.

Meanwhile wholesale food prices jumped 1.3% in November and 2.6% in December. The price of wholesale goods dropped 0.4% in December and the month before, with core goods edging up 0.1% last month and 0.3% in November, most likely kept low by cheap oil and a strong dollar.

Services dropped 0.1% in December led b a 0.3% drop in trade services. Services increased 0.3% in November. The cost of healthcare services increased 0.2% in December with increases in price for doctor visits and hospital outpatient, inpatient, and nursing home care. Overall healthcare prices increased by 0.1% in November.

Expert Outlook

Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell recently stated that inflation data had influenced Fed monetary policy, promising a patient approach to upcoming rate hikes for 2019.

“No one knows whether this year will be like 2016,” said Powell. “But what I do know is that we will be prepared to adjust policy quickly and flexibly and to use all of our tools to support the economy should that be appropriate to keep the expansion on track, to keep the labor market strong and to keep inflation near 2 percent.”

He also stated that “there is no preset path to policy, and particularly with muted inflation readings that we’ve seen coming in, we will be waiting as we watch to see how the economy evolves.”

Market Reaction

Spot gold last traded at $1,289.10/oz, edging higher towards the $1,300/oz mark.

Higher inflation tends to pump the price of gold, although it’s possible that the weak manufacturing data has offset any negative selling pressure from the unexpectedly tame inflation report released at the same time earlier today.

February gold futures last traded at $1,291.60/oz and up 0.02%.

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