A big decline in gas and energy costs drove a measure of U.S. wholesale prices… (Matt Rourke / Associated…)
Falling energy and gas prices helped keep inflation in check last month and also pushed consumer confidence to a four-year high, according to two reports Friday.
The good news helped mitigate a stock market slump earlier in the day after investors continued to react to JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s $2 billion trading loss. The Dow Jones industrial average and the Standard & Poor's 500 index, along with the Nasdaq index were all up in late morning trading in New York.
An index of prices paid by factories, farms and other producers fell 0.2% in April from the previous month, according to the Labor Department. It was the first drop of the year and the most substantial one since October.
Compared with April 2011, prices were 1.9% higher, but represented seven consecutive months of slower increases after spiking 7% in September.
The slide is due almost entirely to the 1.4% drop in energy prices – the largest tumble in six months. Without considering volatile food and energy prices, which soared earlier this year, the index was up 0.2%.
Cheaper gas also helped boost consumer confidence in May to its highest level in four years. A preliminary index compiled by Thomson Reuters and the University of Michigan climbed to 77.8 from last month’s 76.4, reaching a point not seen since January 2008.
That’s the ninth straight monthly rise.
Americans, however, are a bit wary about what the next six months hold. An index of expectations backed off a three-year high. But at least they’re feeling better about the state of the housing market, which analysts believe could lead to higher home sales this year.
Mild inflation will likely help the Federal Reserve maintain its plans to keep short-term interest rates at record lows through most of 2014.
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