MARKING TIME: U. S. consumer prices were flat in January for the second consecutive month. Excluding the volatile food and energy categories, core prices rose 0.3 percent, pushed up by higher costs for clothing, air fares and rents.

LONGER VIEW: The Labor Department said the consumer price index has risen 1.6 percent in the 12 months ending in January, down from a 2.9 percent pace a year ago. Core prices have risen 1.9 percent in the past year, below the Federal Reserve's inflation target.

THE OUTLOOK: Low inflation leaves consumers with more money to spend, which benefits the economy. Private economists see little sign that prices increases are accelerating.

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