Natural Gas Prices Increase Sharply in March

Over the past 12 months, according to data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), prices on expenditures made by urban consumers increased 1.5% before seasonal adjustments. Consumer prices increased in March by 0.2% on a seasonally adjusted month-over-month basis.

Two important components of the residential utility bill (natural gas and electricity) increased in March. The natural gas index, a component of the energy price index, increased sharply month-over-month by 7.5%. This was the largest month-over-month increase since October 2005. Over the past twelve months the natural gas index increased by 16.4%. The electricity index increased month-over-month by 1.1% and 5.3% over the past twelve months.

The energy index fell for the second consecutive month by 0.1% on a month-over-month seasonally adjusted basis. The increases in natural gas and electricity were offset by a decrease in gasoline and fuel oil; all components of the energy index.

For the second consecutive month, the food index rose by 0.4%. Over the past twelve months, the food index increased by 1.7%. The index for meats, poultry, fish, and eggs increased 5.1% over the past twelve months.

The core CPI rose by 0.2% on a seasonally adjusted month-over-month basis and 1.7% for the year before seasonal adjustments. The Core CPI excludes more volatile food and energy prices.

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The shelter index rose 0.3% month-over-month in March after increasing 0.2% in February.  Over the past twelve months, the shelter index increased 2.7% before seasonal adjustments.

Because shelter costs represent a large share of the average consumer’s expenditures, a 0.3% month-over-month increase is worth exploring further. Although the increase in the shelter index partly reflects increases in rental prices, the BLS measure does not isolate the change in rental prices from the changes in the overall price index. NAHB constructs a real rent price index to isolate the change in rental prices. The NAHB constructed measure indicates whether inflation in rents is faster or slower than general inflation and provides some insight into the supply and demand conditions for rental housing, after controlling for overall inflation. The real rent index increased in March by 0.1% month-over-month and 1.2% for the year.

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