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Surge in energy costs sends U.S. consumer prices up 0.5%

Surge in energy costs sends U.S. consumer prices up 0.5%
A customer pumps gas at a Mobil station in Alameda, Calif., on April 25. (Ben Margot / Associsted Press)

U.S. consumer prices rose 0.5% in September, the largest increase in eight months. The result reflects another big jump in energy prices in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, which shut Gulf Coast refineries and caused gasoline prices to jump across the country.

The September increase in the closely watched consumer price index was the biggest one-month gain since a 0.6% rise in January, the Labor Department reported Friday.

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Energy prices shot up 6.1%, led by a 13.1% surge in gasoline. Analysts believe that the impact of the hurricane will be temporary.

Core inflation, which excludes volatile food and energy, rose a tiny 0.1% in September.

Over the last year, overall prices are up 2.2%, while core inflation has risen 1.7%.

The changes in inflation in the third quarter of this year compared with the same period a year ago will result in a cost-of-living adjustment of 2% next year for more than 70 million recipients of Social Security and other government benefits. It is the biggest annual increase since a 3.6% rise in 2012.

So far this year, inflation by a measure preferred by the Federal Reserve has been falling further from the Fed's target of 2% annual price gains. In the latest month, the annual increase was just 1.4%.

The Fed has been perplexed by the slowdown in inflation this year, first believing it was caused by temporary factors. But now Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen and other Fed officials have expressed concerns that something more fundamental may be at work.

The Fed has raised its benchmark interest rate twice this year. At its September meeting, it signaled that a third hike was still expected. Many analysts believe that the Fed will raise rates again in December. But some think that a rate hike will not occur unless inflation shows signs of moving higher, beyond storm-related factors.

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