Inflation Cools While Shelter Costs Remain High

Consumer prices in October remained unchanged, with the increase in shelter index being offset by the decline in the gasoline index. This cooling inflation increases the probability that the Fed is done increasing rates. Despite the slowdown, shelter costs continue to be a key driver of inflation, accounting for over 70% of the total increase in all items excluding food and energy.

The Fed’s ability to address rising housing costs is limited as shelter cost increases are driven by a lack of affordable supply and increasing development costs. Additional housing supply is the primary solution to tame housing inflation. The Fed’s tools for promoting housing supply are at best limited. In fact, further tightening of monetary policy will hurt housing supply by increasing the cost of AD&C financing. This can be seen on the graph below, as shelter costs continue to rise despite Fed policy tightening. Nonetheless, the NAHB forecast expects to see shelter costs decline further later in 2023, supported by real-time data from private data providers that indicate a cooling in rent growth.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) was unchanged in October on a seasonally adjusted basis, following an increase of 0.4% in September. The price index for a broad set of energy sources fell by 2.5% in October as the decline in gasoline index (-5.0%) and fuel oil index (-0.8%) more than offset the increases in natural gas index (+1.2%) and electricity index (+0.3%).  Excluding the volatile food and energy components, the “core” CPI rose by 0.2% in October, after rising 0.3% in September. Meanwhile, both the food index and food at home index increased by 0.3% in October.

In October, the indexes for shelter (+0.3%) was the largest contributors to the increase in the core CPI. Among the other indexes that rose in October include index for motor vehicle insurance (+1.9%), recreation (+3.2%), personal care (+6.0%) and household furnishings and operations (+1.7%). Meanwhile, the indexes for lodging away from home (-2.5%), used car and trucks (-0.8%) and communication (-0.3%) and airline fares (-0.9%) declined in October.

The index for shelter, which makes up more than 40% of the “core” CPI, rose by 0.3% in October, following an increase of 0.6% in September. The indexes for owners’ equivalent rent (OER) increased by 0.4% and rent of primary residence (RPR) increased by 0.5% over the month. Monthly increases in OER have averaged 0.5% over the last ten months. These gains have been the largest contributors to headline inflation in recent months.

During the past twelve months, on a not seasonally adjusted basis, the CPI rose by 3.2% in October, following a 3.7% increase in September. The “core” CPI increased by 4.0% over the past twelve months, following a 4.1% increase in September. This was the slowest annual gain since September 2021. The food index rose by 3.3% while the energy index fell by 4.5% over the past twelve months.

NAHB constructs a “real” rent index to indicate whether inflation in rents is faster or slower than overall inflation. It provides insight into the supply and demand conditions for rental housing. When inflation in rents is rising faster (slower) than overall inflation, the real rent index rises (declines). The real rent index is calculated by dividing the price index for rent by the core CPI (to exclude the volatile food and energy components). The Real Rent Index rose by 0.3% in October.

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