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U.S. import prices rise in December, but trend subdued

WASHINGTON, (Reuters) - U.S. import prices increased in December, leading to the first year-on-year increase in nine months, but the underlying trend remained weak, consistent with subdued imported inflation.

The Labor Department said on Thursday import prices rose 0.3% last month, lifted by gains in the costs of petroleum products. Data for November was revised down to show import prices edging up 0.1% instead of gaining 0.2% as previously reported. Import prices exclude tariffs.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast import prices would rise 0.3% in December.

In the 12 months through December, import prices rose 0.5%. That was the first increase since last March and the largest gain since November 2018. Import prices fell 1.3% on a year-on-year basis in November. Inflation has been muted, with reports this week showing a small increase in consumer prices in December and producer prices barely rising.

In December, prices for imported fuels and lubricants jumped 2.8% after rising 1.3% in November. Petroleum prices increased 2.1% after being unchanged in November. Imported food prices surged 1.1% last month. That followed a 0.5% drop in November.

Excluding fuels and food, import prices were unchanged in December. The so-called core import prices slipped 0.1% in November. Core import prices fell 1.3% in the 12 months through December.

The cost of goods imported from China was unchanged in December after dropping 0.1% in the prior month. Prices fell 1.8% in 2019 and have not increased on a calendar-year basis since 2011.

The report also showed export prices fell 0.2% in December after rising 0.2% in November. Export prices dropped 0.7% on a year-on-year basis in December after falling 1.2% in November.

Reporting by Lucia Mutikani Editing by Paul Simao

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