The Fed’s Preferred Inflation Gauge Moderated Slightly in May.


The Federal Reserve’s preferred inflation gauge showed signs of moderation in May, data released Thursday showed, a glimmer of good news at a moment when central bankers are watching each incoming price data point worriedly and are rapidly raising interest rates to wrestle cost increases under control.

The Personal Consumption Expenditures price measure, which the Fed officially targets when it aims for 2 percent inflation on average over time, climbed by 6.3 percent in the year through May, matching the April increase. Over the past month, it picked up 0.6 percent, a rapid pace of increase as gas prices rose.

But after stripping out food and fuel prices, which can be volatile, the measure climbed by 4.7 percent over the past year, down slightly from 4.9 percent in the prior reading. On a monthly basis, that core measure picked up by 0.3 percent compared with the prior month, roughly matching the previous few months. Central bankers are closely watching that core monthly pace to try to get a handle on where underlying inflation pressures are headed.

While there are some positive signs in the new report, they are far from conclusive, and the figure comes as a variety of other data sources suggest that, for now, inflation remains painfully rapid. The Consumer Price Index inflation report for May, which comes out earlier and is calculated differently, showed prices reaccelerating to the fastest pace in four decades. A variety of gauges that measure inflation expectations, which track how consumers think price increases will change over time, have been climbing higher.

The Fed is worried that if businesses and employees begin to expect higher future prices and change their behavior — negotiating higher wages and passing along cost increases more readily — inflation might become a more permanent feature of the economy backdrop.

Central bankers have signaled that they plan to quickly raise interest rates until they are well above 3 percent, double their current level, and are debating between a half-point or three-quarter point increase in July.

Higher rates should help to slow down spending as money becomes more expensive to borrow, but they could also risk cooling the economy so much that it tips into a recession. That’s especially true as supply issues persist, suggesting that the Fed may have to choke off demand more decisively to drive price increases lower.

Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, said on Wednesday that the central bank’s efforts to slow down consumer and business demand to cool off inflation were “highly likely to involve some pain.”

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