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The Consumer Price Index, released on Wednesday, found that prices in May increased 3.3 percent from a year earlier. That was lower than the 3.4 percent that economists had forecast and down from the April reading.

The number is still higher than the Federal Reserve’s target of 2 percent, which it defines using a different but related price index. But it was a welcome sign for the central bank and elected officials who had been worried as progress in reducing inflation stalled this year.

High inflation rocked the global economy during the recovery from the pandemic, and year-over-year price increases in the United States peaked at 9.1 percent in June 2022. The Fed had started raising interest rates in March that year to tame inflation — reaching a two-decade-high level of 5.3 percent last July.

The higher rates helped cool inflation significantly in 2023, and Fed officials signaled that rate cuts might be on the way, easing the weight of higher borrowing costs on Americans.

In 2024, that calculus changed. After several months with higher inflation than expected, the likelihood of multiple rate cuts before the end of the year diminished.

But the report for May offered a few signs for optimism. Grocery prices were unchanged from April, while auto insurance prices decreased from a month earlier. Gas prices and airline fares also fell.

At their meeting this past week, Fed officials predicted one rate cut this year. Still, Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, cautioned against making too much of the numbers.

“Readings like today’s are a step in the right direction,” Mr. Powell said Wednesday. “But it’s only one reading. You don’t want to be too motivated by any single data point.”



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