The Producer Price Index, a gauge of inflation that measures changes in prices at the wholesale level, jumped by an outsized 0.7% in February. That increase easily exceeded the very modest increase of 0.2% in such prices that had been recorded in January.
The big swing factor in last month's surge in producer prices was brought about almost exclusively by rising energy costs. To wit, this measure of inflation jumped by a full 3.0% in February. The gain here reversed a 0.4% decline in energy costs booked in January. However, it was the first increase in this volatile inflation category since last September, when energy prices had pushed ahead by a dramatic 4.1%.
The other volatile producer price component, food costs, fell by 0.5% last month. That decline, the second in the past three months, reversed a 0.7% increase in this volatile component in January. Food prices are somewhat less frenetic than energy costs, but are also rather inconsistent on their own.
Elsewhere, save for food and energy, the so-called core PPI rose by a modest 0.2% last month, the same as in January. In fact, the core PPI has ranged from flat to a gain of just 0.2% since last August. What's more, save for an outsized increase of 0.5% in the core Producer Price Index in July of 2012, that metric has ranged between a flat reading and a gain of 0.2% since last February. And it is the core PPI that the Federal Reserve focuses most closely on.
Meanwhile, prices at earlier stages of production were also volatile, surging by 1.3% at the intermediate stage, but falling by 0.3% for crude goods. In January, intermediate goods inflation had shown no change, while costs for crude goods had leaped ahead by 0.8%.
As to price changes in the past year, the aggregate PPI showed an increase of 1.7%. In January, the year-over-year increase had been an even tamer 1.4%. Thus, taking these assorted wrinkles together, we sense that there is comparatively little inflation at the wholesale level at present. Finally, we will get the companion report on the Consumer Price Index tomorrow morning, where a gain of 0.6% is the consensus forecast. Here, too, core inflation is not expected to have risen by much, with a nominal 0.2% rise being the expectation on that front.
At the time of this article's writing, the author did not have positions in any of the companies mentioned.