By Eric Morath, WSJ
The U.S. in January saw its first dip in overall consumer prices in more than five years. But the economy is far from the precipice of debilitating Japanese-style deflation.
Driven by a tumble in oil prices since mid-2014, the consumer-price index fell 0.1% in January from a year earlier, the Labor Department said Thursday. It was the first year-over-year decrease since October 2009. Prices fell 0.7% from December.
While the reading indicates little upward price pressure across the U.S. economy, it’s different from the downward forces plaguing other major economies.
“We haven’t suddenly become the eurozone or Japan,” said Richard Moody, chief economist at Regions Financial Corp. The dip in overall prices doesn’t reflect the “underlying health of the U.S. economy.”
In Japan and parts of Europe, negative forces such as weak demand and constrained credit caused a drop in prices for a broad swath of goods and services.
In the U.S., falling consumer prices can be pinpointed to a single sector: energy. Energy costs fell almost 20% over the past year, and gasoline prices alone fell by more than a third.
Consumer prices outside of energy advanced a healthy 1.9% in January from a year earlier. Prices for many staples are growing even faster. Food costs are up 3.2% from a year earlier, shelter costs rose 2.9% and medical care advanced 2.3%.
Removing both food and energy costs, consumer prices rose 0.2% last month and are up 1.6% from January 2014. The year-over-year change in so-called core prices held steady in January from December, after trending down from a recent peak of 2% last May.