October 17, 2013

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Lower Gas Prices Bring Some Relief amid Rising Food and Housing Costs

Press Release

October 17, 2013

Salt Lake City – The Zions Bank Wasatch Front Consumer Price Index (CPI) decreased 0.1 percent from August to September on a non-seasonally adjusted basis, primarily due to a decrease in transportation costs. Over the last 12 months, prices have increased in Utah by 1.4 percent. The national Consumer Price Index, released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is unavailable this month due to the government shutdown. 

Transportation costs fell 0.7 percent this past month, largely due to falling gasoline prices across the state. Utahns paid approximately 3 percent less on average for each gallon of gasoline in September than they did in August. Gasoline prices have now declined two of the past three months, after the average cost of a gallon of gasoline rose nearly one dollar per gallon from January to June.

Current reports indicate that prices are continuing to fall in October, as well. According to AAA, the current price of a gallon of gasoline in Utah is $3.46, down from $3.51 last week.

However, Utahns still face relatively high gasoline prices, as the national average currently sits at $3.34, about $0.12 lower than Utah’s average price. Barring any unexpected hurricanes or supply disruptions, the U.S. Energy Department predicts that the average price of a gallon of gasoline will remain at $3.34 per gallon for the rest of 2013.

Utah’s gasoline price movements have generally lagged national price movements, so local prices will likely continue to decline and slowly move closer to the national average for the remainder of 2013.

Consumers paid slightly more for food in September than in August. Food away prices, which include full service restaurants, fast food restaurants and alcoholic beverages, increased 0.6 percent month-over-month. On average, prices at full-service restaurants increased about 2 percent in September, likely reflecting both strong demand from consumers and increasing food commodity prices, especially beef prices, which have been hovering around all-time highs over the past several months. Conversely, food at home prices fell 0.3 percent in September as seafood, pork and produce prices all significantly declined.

Year-over-year, food at home and food away prices are up 2.0 percent and 2.1 percent, respectively. 

Housing costs—comprised of rent, household furnishings and hotel rates—increased 0.2 percent this month. Even a relatively marginal increase in housing costs greatly impacts consumers since housing accounts for about 35 percent of consumer expenditures. Hotel rates—down 5 percent—fell for the first time in five months but were not enough to offset a jump in the prices of household appliances and furniture.

In other categories, utility prices increased for the fourth straight month, up 0.8 percent, due to an increase in the price of electricity. Clothing costs increased 0.6 percent as retailers rolled out their new fall and winter clothing lines. Prices for recreation and other goods and services increased 0.1 percent and 0.5 percent, respectively. Education and communication prices declined 0.8 percent due to a 3 percent decrease in the price of cell phone services, while medical care costs declined 0.6 percent thanks to a fall in eye care services and other medical services.

“With political gridlock in Washington, falling gasoline prices are a welcome boost to the economy and the consumer psyche, especially as we approach the holiday spending season,” said Scott Anderson, Zions Bank president and CEO. “Consumers now have more discretionary income to spend on food and entertainment, and cheaper gasoline also makes travel easier, helping boost tourism.”


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