Consumer prices expected to fall further in June, boosting Fed rate cut hopes

On Thursday, investors will digest one of the most important data points that will shape the Federal Reserve’s future interest rate policy: the June consumer price index (CPI).

The inflation report, due out at 8:30 a.m. ET, is expected to show headline inflation at 3.1%, slowing from May’s 3.3% increase. That would be the smallest annual increase since January, as a further decline in energy prices likely contributed to further downward pressure on the headline CPI.

Over the previous month, consumer prices are expected to have increased by 0.1%, up slightly from the flat monthly reading in May.

Meanwhile, on a “core” basis, which excludes more volatile food and gasoline costs, prices in June are expected to have risen 3.4% from a year ago and 0.2% from the previous month, unchanged from May, according to Bloomberg data.

“We expect the June CPI report to be another confidence booster after May’s undeniably strong report,” Bank of America economists Stephen Juneau and Michael Gapen wrote in a note last week.

Economists said that while the anticipated numbers are “not as low as May’s, it would be a good outcome for the Fed.”

Thursday’s inflation data comes at a critical time for the central bank after slowing labor market growth, coupled with recent testimony from Federal Reserve Chair Jay Powell, kept rate cut hopes alive.

Powell, who is due to deliver his semiannual policy update to Congress on Wednesday, has largely stuck to his data-driven rhetoric, a positive sign given the recent encouraging data. On Tuesday, he told the Senate Banking Committee that while there have been signs of slowing inflation, the Fed still needs more “good data” to be confident that inflation is moving closer to the Fed’s 2% target.

Core inflation has remained stubbornly high due to rising costs for housing and basic services like insurance and health care. In May, non-housing services “surprisingly declined, largely due to a slight decline in auto insurance,” Bank of America’s Juneau and Gapen noted.

But economists expect the category (and auto insurance) to have increased in June, indicating a “bumpy” path to price stabilization.

“Non-housing services inflation is expected to moderate over time, given the slowdown in service sector wage inflation; however, a prolonged period of deflation is unlikely,” they warned.

FILE - Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell speaks during a news conference at the Federal Reserve in Washington, June 12, 2024. Powell testifies before the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday, July 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

FILE – Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell speaks during a news conference at the Federal Reserve in Washington, June 12, 2024. Powell testifies before the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday, July 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

At the same time, price increases in rents and owner-equivalent rents, or the hypothetical rent a homeowner would pay for the same property, are expected to slow in the coming months, BofA said, “which should strengthen the Fed’s confidence in the inflation outlook.”

The Goldman Sachs team, led by Jan Hatzius, agreed that “further disinflation” remained on the cards this year, citing “rebalancing in the auto, rental housing and labor markets.”

However, “we expect offsets from continued inflation catch-up in healthcare and auto insurance and from single-family home rent growth continuing to outpace multi-family rent growth.”

Goldman anticipates core CPI inflation of 3.2% and core PCE inflation of 2.7% in December 2024, down from their previous projections of 3.5% and 2.8%, respectively.

Inflation has remained stubbornly above the Federal Reserve’s 2% target on an annual basis. But recent economic data has helped fuel talk that the central bank should cut rates sooner rather than later.

On Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the labor market added 206,000 nonfarm payrolls last month, compared with more than 190,000 expected by economists. However, the unemployment rate unexpectedly rose to 4.1%, up from 4% the previous month. That was the highest reading in nearly three years.

The core PCE price index, the Fed’s preferred gauge of inflation, showed that inflation slowed in May. The annual change in the core PCE index was 2.6 percent in May from a year earlier, in line with estimates and the smallest annual increase in more than three years.

“Should the CPI report be printed? [fall] “In line with our expectations, we maintain our forecast for the Fed to begin its rate-cutting cycle in December,” Bank of America said. “That said, we acknowledge that a further 0.2% month-on-month increase in core CPI would tilt the balance toward an anticipated rate cut, particularly given signs of weakening activity.”

Investors now anticipate a range of one to two 25-basis-point rate cuts in 2024, down from six forecast at the start of the year, according to Bloomberg data.

On Wednesday, markets were pricing in about a 75% chance that the Federal Reserve would begin cutting rates at its September meeting, according to data from CME Group.

Alexandra Canal is a senior journalist at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on X @allie_canal, LinkedIn, and send her an email at alexandra.canal@yahoofinance.com.

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