Signs that inflation is finally heading back up

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PennAve,Joseph Lawler,Economy,Federal Reserve,Janet Yellen,Inflation,BLS,Retail

Inflation ticked up in April, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Thursday morning, one of a few signs that inflation could be headed back up after three years of slowing price gains.

The Consumer Price Index, the most-cited and most-used measure of inflation, rose 0.3 percent in April, the BLS reported. For the year, the index was up 2 percent, the most since last summer, and up from recent sub-1 percent readings.

Stripping out food and energy, the year-over-year increase was 1.8 percent. So-called "core inflation" is a less volatile measure of price changes.

Thursday's news of rising consumer prices follows Wednesday's high reading of producer prices. The Producer Price Index for Final Demand, which tracks prices for producers and is also released by the BLS, showed prices unexpectedly rising 0.6 percent for April, bringing the year-over-year number to 2.1 percent.

Together, the CPI and PPI numbers show an uptick in the past two months that could signal a turning point in the longer disinflationary trend. Data for April is not yet available for the Personal Consumption Expenditures index, another oft-cited metric, but it too ticked up in March:

One note of caution in interpreting the annual trend, though: April's high year-over-year number is attributable partly to the high gain in April, but also because an unusually low number from April 2013 dropped out of the average.

Furthermore, inflation readings can be volatile from month to month. The average CPI inflation rate for the past three months is still just 1.5 percent, the same as for the PPI. PCE inflation has been running at just above 1 percent for months.

Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen has consistently said that the recent trend of low inflation is temporary and that over time, inflation will move back up toward 2 percent, which is the Fed's stated target. Her predecessor, Ben Bernanke, made similar claims throughout his last few years in office as the inflation rate slipped.

Thursday's CPI reading is the first hint that events could be playing out as the Fed expects. That is a welcome sign, as far as the central bank is concerned, because rising prices are consistent with a recovering economy and a closing output gap.

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