WASHINGTON: A jump in fuel prices helped nudge US wholesale inflation in August to its biggest gain in four months, the Labor Department reported Wednesday.
But despite reversing the drop seen in July, the Producer Price Index still fell short of analyst expectations.
Although the fuel price index spiked last month, it was not affected by Hurricane Harvey, since the information used to calculate the increase was collected before the storm hit.
But the storm impact likely will be felt in September.
Harvey made landfall toward the end of the month on the Texas Gulf Coast, shutting down a large share of US production and refining capacity, which hit fuel and crude prices.
“We are braced for a PPI spike in the next couple of months,” Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics wrote in a client note.
He noted that core PPI rose 0.5 percent in the immediate aftermath of Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
Total PPI, which tracks the costs of wholesale goods and services, rose 0.2 percent for the month, the Labor Department said, falling short of the 0.3 percent rise analysts had been expecting.
The increase followed a 0.1 percent drop in the prior month, and was the largest since a gain of 0.5 percent in April. Year-over-year, the index was 2.4 percent higher, up five tenths from July.
Most of the August PPI increase came from the goods segment, including energy, which jumped 3.3 percent.
Excluding the volatile food and fuel categories, “core” PPI rose 0.1 percent, also below expectations, and was up 2.0 percent compared to August 2016.
Within energy, there were double-digit monthly increases in residual fuels, home heating oil, and jet fuel, which rose 18.6 percent, its fastest pace in eight years.
And wholesale gasoline prices rose 9.5 percent for the month, the biggest increase since January.
Analysts said the Fed was likely to view rising energy prices as a temporary phenomenon but reconstruction after back-to-back hurricanes in Texas and Florida was likely to drive up demand and prices for construction and other services.
Persistent weak US inflation has stumped monetary policymakers and economists this year. The Federal Reserve is expected to leave its benchmark interest rate untouched when they meet next week, and the likelihood of a third rate hike this year has receded, especially in the aftermath of the hurricanes.
In contrast to energy, food prices dragged the monthly index down, with wholesale wheat prices tumbling 20.6 percent, the largest drop in more than nine years.
Air transportation services rose 1.4 percent, the biggest increase since July 2009, while truck-hauling services moved up 0.9 percent, the largest increase in three years.