QUICK OUTLOOK ON THE US MARKET’S, BEFORE THE FRIDAY BELL..
The combination of a strong dollar and cheaper oil has suppressed inflation across much of the economy. Gasoline prices at the pump have dropped 24 percent over the past year to a national average of $1.72 a gallon. At the same time, economic growth struggles worldwide have pushed up the value of the dollar, making foreign imports cheaper. But the rate of gasoline prices declining slowed in January, weakening its downward pull on inflation.Core inflation, which excludes volatile energy and food costs, rose 0.3 percent in January. Over the past 12 months, core inflation has climbed 2.2 percent.The Federal Reserve is closely following inflation, looking for assurance that overall inflation will accelerate to 2 percent in its preferred measure. That measure of personal consumption places less of an emphasis on housing. It posted a modest annual increase of 0.6 percent.
Fed officials are increasingly unsure about the path of inflation after raising a key interest rate in December from a record low set in late 2008. The quarter-point increase pushed the federal funds rate from near zero to a range of 0.25 percent to 0.5 percent. Top Fed policymakers have greater concerns about threats to U.S. economic growth coming from lower oil prices and slowing growth in China and other emerging markets, according to the minutes of their January meeting released Wednesday.