Inflation rebounded in March to 1.5 percent year-over-year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Tuesday, in a development that will help allay fears that the economy is too weak to prevent ongoing disinflation despite the Federal Reserve's stimulus efforts. Headline inflation had slowed to 1.1 percent in February.
The increase, measured by the BLS' monthly update to the Consumer Price Index, was driven by rising housing and food costs.
Core inflation, the less volatile measure of price changes that strips out changes in the cost of food and energy, also strengthened, rising from 1.5 to 1.7 percent.
The possibility that inflation might be headed in the wrong direction was one of the few pieces of the puzzle missing for the Federal Reserve in assessing the state of the U.S. economy.
The Fed’s viewpoint, as expressed in its monetary policy statements, was that while growth slowed over the first few months because of the weather, the underlying trends point to a strengthening economy and a tightening labor market.
A number of recent indicators, including jobs numbers, consumer spending and industrial production, lent evidence to support that narrative and suggested a pickup in growth for the second quarter.
Inflation heading back toward the Fed’s 2-percent target should further harden the perception that the economy is headed in the right direction, and the Fed’s taper of its monthly bond purchases can proceed on schedule without the risk of a too-early withdrawal of support.
A separate measure of inflation that Fed officials have said they regard as more accurate, the personal consumption expenditures price index, had also posted low numbers in February: 0.9 percent headline and 1.1 percent core inflation.
Both CPI and PCE inflation have been trending downward since late 2011.
Nevertheless, inflation expectations have firmed over the past year. The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland’s latest estimate of 10-year expected inflation is 1.74 percent.