Energy Prices Rise More Slowly; Rents Increase

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released November Consumer Price Index (CPI) numbers today. On a seasonally adjusted basis, the CPI for All Urban Consumers rose 0.1% in November, down from 0.2% in October. On a year-over-year basis the index was up 1.1%.

Both food and energy prices rose, up 0.2% (SA) for the month. Food prices were up 1.5% from a year earlier. Despite an increase in gasoline prices (up 0.7% for the month), November’s 0.2% increase was the smallest increase for the energy price index in five months and the household energy price index actually fell. Core CPI, which excludes food and energy prices, rose a modest 0.1% for the month, and increased a moderate 0.8% from a year earlier.

NAHB forecasts that inflation as measured by the overall CPI will remain moderate throughout 2011, advancing 1.1% for the year. There will be a slight upward pressure on prices in 2012 with prices rising at a 1.4% annual rate in the second half of the year.

The rental component of the CPI rose 0.2%, its largest increase in almost two years. On a year-over-year basis, the index was up 0.6%. Owner’s equivalent rent, which is largely driven by the rent index without utilities and can be used as a measure of homeownership “prices”, rose 0.1%, and increased 0.2% from a year earlier.

The rent and owner components of the CPI make up 31% of the CPI. November marks the first time since December 2009 that the increase in the rental index has exceeded the increase in the overall CPI. The soft rental market and excess vacancies have kept rents from rising as fast as the general CPI over the past year, with the year-over-year increase in the rental index lagging the CPI by almost a full percentage point. This has been a challenge to apartment owners who have seen many of their costs rising, particularly for energy. It also has made it more difficult for proposed multifamily rental projects to obtain financing.

November’s rental price index increase may be an early sign that the rental market is improving. The seasonally adjusted percentage of households renting has risen from a low of 30.8% 30.6% in fourth second quarter 2004 to 33.1% 33.3% in third quarter 2010. Meanwhile, third quarter rental vacancy rates fell to 10.3% from 11.1% a year earlier.



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