A report on Wednesday is expected to show that price increases slowed in July, as lower gas prices and airfares created a welcome reprieve for consumers and policymakers.
But it is not clear whether the moderation will last, because fuel prices are unpredictable and gas prices could climb again. Economists have also warned that while inflation is expected to slow in the months ahead, it may not moderate enough, and the Federal Reserve may need to continue working aggressively to lower it.
Consumer prices probably rose 8.7 percent over the year through July, down from 9.1 percent over the year through June, according to a Bloomberg survey of economists. The Fed aims to keep inflation at 2 percent on an annual basis, although it targets a related but separate inflation measure that is running slightly lower but is also abnormally high.
Policymakers have been hoping for more than a year now that price increases would begin to cool, only to have those expectations repeatedly dashed: Supply chain issues made goods more expensive, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sent commodity prices soaring, a shortage of workers pushed wages and service prices higher, and a dearth of housing raised rents.
Now, there are signs of progress on at least two of these fronts, with supply chain strains showing some improvement and gas prices falling. But still-rapid wage growth and rising housing costs could keep inflation too high for comfort for some time, said Aneta Markowska, the chief financial economist at Jefferies.
“This will be a fairly benign report, at least compared to the last several,” Ms. Markowska said, explaining that she expected price increases to continue to slow to about 4 percent by early next year — but then to plateau. “We’re still going to be left, at the end of the day, with housing and with labor market pressures, and those aren’t going to go away on their own.”
The Fed agrees that inflation will probably not fade on its own, and it has been raising interest rates since March to try to cool the economy by making borrowing money more expensive. The goal is to weaken overall demand, allowing supply to catch up.
But the results of Fed actions take time to play out. Hiring unexpectedly accelerated in July, and unemployment is back at a half-century low. Wages are still climbing rapidly, and consumer spending is not slowing down as quickly as many economists expected.
At the same time, various measures of inflation expectations have recently moderated, suggesting that lower gas prices and the Fed’s commitment to fight inflation may be calming consumers and investors.
Fed officials are contemplating how quickly they should raise rates. They lifted them three-quarters of a percentage point in both June and July, and have suggested that a third consecutive move of that size — which is unusually large — remains possible at their meeting in September.