Consumer prices increased more than expected in December as investors continue to look for signs the Federal Reserve can begin to cut interest rates.

The December Consumer Price Index (CPI) showed prices ticked up slightly at 0.3% over last month, an increase from the 0.2% seen in November. Prices rose 3.4% over the prior year, an increase from the 3.1% increase seen the month prior.

Economists had expected prices to increase 0.2% month over month and rise 3.2% year over year, according to Bloomberg data.

When removing the volatile food and energy categories, “core” inflation fell to an annual rate of 3.9% from 4.0% the month prior. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg had expected core inflation of 3.8%. On a monthly basis, core inflation was 0.3%, up unchanged from the month prior.

“This print is aligned with our view that disinflation ahead will be gradual with sticky services inflation,” Morgan Stanley chief US economist Ellen Zentner wrote in a note to clients on Thursday.

Notable call-outs from the inflation print include the shelter index, which rose 6.2% on an annual basis, contributing over half of the price gains.

On a monthly basis, the index increased 0.4%, flat from the change seen in November.

Within core inflation, rent prices remained elevated. The index for rent and owners’ equivalent rent each rose 0.5% on a monthly basis for the third straight month. Owners’ equivalent rent is the hypothetical rent a homeowner would pay for the same home.

Other indexes that rose in December included motor vehicle insurance, which rose 20.3% compared to last year, the biggest gain since 1976, per Bloomberg.

The monthly prices for used cars, which have ticked down in recent months, increased 0.1%.

The food index increased 2.7% in December over the last year, with food prices rising 0.1% from November to December. The index for food at home decreased 0.1% after rising for the past several months.

Egg prices increased a sizable 8.9% month over month after rising 2.2% in November.

The indexes for household furnishings and operations, as well as personal care, were among those that decreased over the month, according to the BLS.

The print is critical for investors who have been increasingly pricing in the odds of a soft landing — where inflation retreats to 2% without an economic downturn — since the last CPI report. Such an outcome could mean the central bank’s interest rate hiking campaign is over and that it could start cutting rates, bringing down the cost of borrowing for businesses and consumers.

As of early Thursday morning, markets priced in a roughly 69% chance that the Fed cuts interest rates in March, per the CME FedWatch Tool, largely unchanged from the odds a day prior.

“I don’t think it’s enough to delay cuts,” Bank of America US economist Stephen Juneau told Yahoo Finance Live. “We’re looking for a march cut to kind of kick of the cutting cycle. This kind of keeps the door open, it definitely doesn’t slam the door shut.”

While markets have been aggressive in pricing in interest rate cuts as the path forward for inflation appears lower, Fed officials have been more measured.

Fed Governor Michelle Bowman said on Monday that while the Fed may eventually need to cut rates if inflation falls further, “we are not yet at that point.”

n separate remarks on Monday, Atlanta Fed president Raphael Bostic echoed a similar sentiment.

“We are in a restrictive stance, and I’m comfortable with that, and I just want to see the economy continue to evolve with us in that stance and hopefully see inflation continue to get to our 2% level,” he said, according to media reports of his comments.

Written by: Josh Schafer@Yahoo Finance

 BullsNBears.com was founded to educate investors about the eight secular bear markets which have occurred in the US since 1802.  The site publishes bear market investing recommendations, strategies and articles by its analysts and unaffiliated third-party and qualified expert contributors.

No Solicitation or Investment Advice: The material contained in this article or report is for informational purposes only and is not a solicitation for any action to be taken based upon such material. The material is not to be construed as an offer or a recommendation to buy or sell a security nor is it to be construed as investment advice. Additionally, the material accessible through this article or report does not constitute a representation that the investments or the investable markets described herein are suitable or appropriate for any person or entity.