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Will the Federal Reserve raise interest rates three times or four this year? The answer will have a lot to do with inflation, but as MarketWatch staffer Jeffry Bartash reports, it’s still far from clear that inflation will rise fast enough to merit four increases.

Over the past year, the consumer price index has risen 2.2% and is not far off a six-year high. Rising prices of oil, homes and rent are largely to blame, Bartash explains. The long-run picture on inflation could also take a turn for the worse in March. The yearly rate of inflation could spike to 2.5% if the CPI increases as much as it did in February.

Consumer prices fell sharply in March 2017 because of a weird plunge in the cost of wireless service. That’s kept the yearly rate of inflation looking rather tame despite the tightest labor market in years and rising prices for key staples such as shelter and energy.

“Okay, fine, but just wait until next month . . . That will be the rallying cry for those who have been sounding the inflation alarm bell,” contended Richard Moody, chief economist of Regions Financial.

But inflation is not assured to keep rising as prices for things like medical expenses and cars have risen slightly or dropped over the past years. The cost of housing and rent is also rising more slowly. The 12-month increase in shelter slipped to 3.1% in February from 3.5% a year earlier. Home builders are ramping up construction of single-family homes and there’s been a surge in the number of rental units available.

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