Ahead of the Bell: US consumer prices

Economists expect consumer prices rose 0.3 percent last month, matching December's increase

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Labor Department releases its report on January U.S. consumer prices Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. Eastern.

REPEAT PERFORMANCE: Economists expect the report to show that consumer prices rose 0.3 percent last month, matching the December increase, according to a survey by the data firm FactSet.

A FIVE-YEAR HIGH: Rising energy costs pulled consumer prices higher in December. For all of 2016, prices rose 2.1 percent, up from a 0.7 percent gain in 2015 and the biggest annual increase since 2011. Core inflation, which strips out volatile food and energy prices, rose 0.2 percent in December and 2.2 percent in 2016.

FED FOCUS: After remaining low in the aftermath of the Great Recession, consumer inflation is creeping past the Federal Reserve's 2 percent annual target.

The Fed left a key interest rate unchanged at its last meeting Jan. 31-Feb. 1, saying it needs more time to monitor the economy but still expects to raise rates gradually.

The Fed raised interest rates in December for just the second time in a decade. Many economists expect the central bank to delay further rate increases until it knows more about President Donald Trump's ambitious economic agenda, including whether his plans to stimulate the economy with tax cuts and infrastructure spending will increase inflation and whether his stated intention to cancel or rewrite trade deals will slow economic growth or shake up financial markets.

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