ICS Magazine

Consumer prices rise at double the expected rate

August 14, 2008

(AP) – WASHINGTON -- Consumer prices shot up in July at twice the expected rate, pushed higher by surging energy and food costs. The latest surge left inflation running at the fastest pace in 17 years.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that consumer prices rose by 0.8 percent last month, twice the 0.4 percent gain that economists had been expecting.

It marked the third straight month of oversized inflation increases following jumps of 0.6 percent in May and 1.1 percent in June. And it leaves inflation rising by 5.6 percent over the past year, the biggest 12-month gain since January 1991.

Core inflation, which excludes volatile food and energy costs, rose 0.3 percent in July, slightly higher than the 0.2 percent increase that economists had expected. For the past 12 months, core inflation has risen by 2.5 percent, the highest 12-month change since February.

The big rise in inflation left consumers even more squeezed. The Labor Department said that average weekly earnings, after adjusting for inflation, fell by 3.1 percent in July compared to a year ago, the biggest year-over-year decline since November 1990.

The Labor Department also reported that the number of newly laid off workers filing for unemployment benefits fell by 10,000 last week to 450,000. The decline was less than expected and showed the labor market remains under severe stress from the weak economy. The four-week average for claims rose to the highest level in six years.

Food costs shot up by 0.9 percent in July, reflecting higher costs for a wide variety of food products. Over the past 12 months, food prices have risen by 6 percent, reflecting surging commodity prices. The Agriculture Department reported this week that this year's corn and soybean harvests will be among the largest in history, though, easing fears that had been fueled after heavy flooding in the Midwest in June.

The core inflation figure was driven higher by a big 1.2 percent jump in clothing costs, the biggest increase in this area since August 1998. Airline ticket prices, which have been surging because of higher fuel costs, jumped another 1.3 percent in July.