WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. consumer prices rose only slightly last month as gas costs increased more slowly. Overall, the figures showed that inflation remains mild.
The Labor Department said Thursday that the consumer price index rose 0.2 percent in July after a 0.5 percent increase in June. Gas prices rose just 1 percent after jumping 6.3 percent in June. Excluding food and gas costs, which are volatile, "core" prices also rose 0.2 percent in July.
Over the past 12 months, consumer prices have risen 2 percent. Core prices have increased 1.7 percent in the past 12 months, still below the Federal Reserve's 2 percent inflation target.
Slightly higher inflation could make it easier for the Fed to start pulling back on its low-interest-rate policies. Falling inflation would pressure the Fed to continue stimulating growth.
The Fed announced after its July meeting that it planned to continue buying $85 billion a month in bonds to keep downward pressure on long-term interest rates. It also said it planned to maintain a key short-term rate near zero, where it's remained since December 2008 — at least as long as unemployment stays above 6.5 percent.
But Chairman Ben Bernanke and several other Fed officials have said the central bank could start slowing its bond purchases later this year. Some economists think such a change could be announced at the Fed's next meeting on Sept. 17-18.
Most analysts expect the slowdown to be gradual. New bond purchases might not end until mid-2014 — and only then if the unemployment rate has dropped to around 7 percent.
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