US producer price inflation eases to still-high 8.5%

WASHINGTON — Inflation at the wholesale level rose 8.5% in September from a year earlier, the third straight decline though costs remain at painfully high levels.

Today’s report from the Labor Department also showed that the producer price index — which measures price changes before they reach the consumer — rose 0.4% in September from August, after two months of declines.

The September monthly increase was larger than expected and was pushed higher by a big increase in hotel room costs. Food costs also rose in September from August, after a slight drop the previous month.

Stubbornly-high inflation is draining Americans’ bank accounts, frustrating small businesses and raising alarm bells at the Federal Reserve. It is also causing political headaches for President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats, most of whom will face voters in mid-term elections in less than a month.

The Fed has boosted its benchmark short-term interest rate by three percentage points since March to combat rising prices. It’s the fastest pace of rate hikes since the early 1980s. Higher rates are intended to cool consumer and business borrowing and spending, and to slow the economy.

Today’s producer price data captures inflation at an earlier stage of production and can often signal where consumer prices are headed. It also feeds into the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation, which is called the personal consumption expenditures price index.