March 14, 2019 / 12:38 PM / 5 months ago

U.S. import prices post largest gain in nine months

WASHINGTON, (Reuters) - U.S. import prices increased by the most in nine months in February, but the trend remained weak, with prices declining for a third straight month on an annual basis.

FILE PHOTO: A container ship is shown at port in Long Beach, California, U.S. July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake

The Labor Department said on Thursday import prices rose 0.6 percent last month, the biggest gain since May, boosted by increases in the costs of fuels and consumer goods. Data for January was revised higher to show import prices edging up 0.1 percent instead of falling 0.5 percent as previously reported.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast import prices rising 0.3 percent in February.

In the 12 months through February, import prices fell 1.3 percent. That followed a 1.6 percent decline in January.

The report came on the heels of data showing tame producer and consumer inflation readings in February. The jump in the monthly import prices probably does not change economists’ expectations that inflation will remain moderate through the first half of 2019, and allow the Federal Reserve to stay pat on interest rates.

The U.S. central bank has pledged to be “patient” before tightening monetary policy further this year. The Fed increased rates four times last year

Last month, prices for imported fuels and lubricants rose 4.9 percent after increasing 4.1 percent in January. Prices for imported petroleum increased 4.7 percent after rebounding 7.1 percent in January.

Food prices fell 0.8 percent in February after decreasing 0.4 percent in the prior month. Excluding fuels and food, import prices rose rebounded 0.2 percent last month after falling 0.3 percent in January.

The so-called core import prices fell 0.3 percent in the 12 months through February. Increases in the core import prices have been curbed by last year’s strength in the dollar. Prices for imported consumer goods excluding automobiles rose 0.3 percent in February, reversing January’s drop,.

The report also showed export prices increased 0.6 percent in February after declining 0.5 percent in January. There were increases in the prices of both agricultural and nonagricultural exports. Export prices rose 0.3 percent on a year-on-year basis in February after falling 0.2 percent in January.

Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci

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