U.S. consumer prices are estimated to have risen in January as a recent rise in energy prices defied the economic downturn and disinflationary trends, according to economists polled by Reuters.

As energy prices rose, a median forecast culled from a poll of more than 70 economists estimated that consumer prices overall rose 0.3 percent in January from December, while prices excluding food and energy items rose 0.1 percent.

A poll of more than 40 economists offered a median forecast for a year-over-year 0.2 percent drop in consumer prices in January. Core consumer prices were estimated up 1.5 percent from a year ago.

Higher energy prices also played a role in producer prices last month when those prices rose 0.8 percent after falling for five straight months, according to a Labor Department report. Analysts said, however, that inflation was not a realistic threat this year.

A very modest rebound in retail gasoline prices is behind the headline PPI and CPI price index increases, but the key theme for 2009 for these reports is going to be disinflation - if not deflation - rather than inflation, said Deutsche Bank Securities senior economist Carl Riccadonna in New York.

The CPI report is due at 8:30 a.m. on Friday.

A sampling of forecasts and analysis on the upcoming consumer price data follows:


Forecast: Consumer Price Index +0.2 percent

core Consumer Price Index +0.1 percent

The core figure reflects a very restrained rise in service prices, particularly in the housing area. Buyer resistance to higher prices is keeping core goods prices flat. It does look as if energy prices, i.e. gasoline, bounced up a bit which is why the total CPI will rise more than the core figure.


Forecast: Consumer Price Index +0.4 percent

core Consumer Price Index +0.1 percent

We expect a 0.1 percent rise in the core CPI which is a little bit above the recent flat trend tied to discounting in autos, airfares and hotels. That discounting might have run its course because energy prices leveled out and started to rise. So the factors holding down core CPI may have eased and that will give us a slightly larger core CPI increase in January than what we saw toward the end of 2008.

In the headline CPI, gasoline prices at the retail level are also reported to have increased, even if not as much as they did at the wholesale level. But an approximately 6 percent increase in retail gasoline prices would add 0.3 (percentage point) to the headline CPI, creating a headline CPI reading of 0.4 percent. People may see some upside risk to the CPI as well, given what happened to the January PPI. But the extreme level of stress in the economy is likely to prevent price increases at the consumer level in the near term.



Forecast: Consumer Price Index +0.2 percent

core Consumer Price Index +0.1 percent

We estimate that gasoline prices rose to a national average of $1.84/gallon in January, up more than 5 percent from $1.74/gallon in December. This gain is expected to overwhelm continued declines in the other CPI energy components. Food prices are also forecast to bounce back slightly after a surprisingly weak reading last month (note that annual adjustment to the CPI seasonal factors on Wednesday may affect our headline forecast).

The core CPI is forecast to increase by 0.1 percent after remaining roughly unchanged over the past three months. We believe the very low readings in Q4 exaggerated the underlying trend in inflation due to negative passthrough effects from record declines in energy prices (through airline fares, for example) and exceptionally low rent inflation.

(Polling by Bangalore Polling Unit)

(Editing by Neil Stempleman)