US consumer prices unexpectedly rise in November

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. consumer prices unexpectedly rose in November while underlying inflation pushed higher, offering more evidence that the Federal Reserve was unlikely to pivot to interest rate cuts early next year.

The consumer price index edged up 0.1% last month after being unchanged in October, the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics said on Tuesday. In the 12 months through November, the CPI increased 3.1% after rising 3.2% in October.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the CPI would be unchanged on the month and gain 3.1% on a year-on-year basis. The annual increase in consumer prices has slowed from a peak of 9.1% in June 2022. Inflation remains above the Fed’s 2% target.

The report followed data last Friday showing job gains accelerated in November and the unemployment rate fell to 3.7% from nearly a two-year high of 3.9% in October. The strong employment report prompted financial markets to push back expectations of an interest rate cut to May from March, according to CME Group’s FedWatch Tool.

Officials from the U.S. central bank were due to gather for a two-day policy meeting on Tuesday. The Fed is expected to leave rates unchanged on Wednesday, with economists confident that its policy tightening campaign is over.

“(Fed Chair Jerome) Powell will likely continue to guide that rate cuts are not yet being considered but will not substantially push back on market pricing,” said Veronica Clark, an economist at Citigroup in New York.

The Fed has raised its policy rate by 525 basis points to the current 5.25%-5.50% range since March 2022.

Excluding the volatile food and energy components, the CPI increased 0.3% in November after climbing 0.2% in the prior month. The so-called core CPI was lifted by a rebound in prices of used cars and trucks.

High rents continued to keep underlying inflation elevated. Rental inflation could moderate considerably next year as the rental vacancy rate increased to more than a two-year high in the third quarter, and there is a large stock of apartment buildings in the pipeline.

The core CPI increased 4.0% on a year-on-year basis in November after advancing by the same margin in October.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao and Chizu Nomiyama)

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