WASHINGTON: US import prices increased for a third straight month in March, driven by higher fuel prices, but the underlying trend remained soft.
The Labor Department said on Friday import prices rose 0.6pc last month, boosted by increases in the costs of fuels and industrial supplies. Data for February was revised higher to show import prices rising 1.0 per cent, the largest monthly advance since May 2016.
Petroleum prices rose 4.7pc in March, slowing from February’s 9.7pc gain. Industrial supplies and materials were up 2.7pc. Economists had forecast import prices rising 0.4pc in March.
In the 12 months through March, import prices were unchanged after declining on an annual basis in the three prior months.
The report comes after data earlier this week showed consumer prices in March rose by the most in 14 months and producer prices increased by the most in five months on higher gasoline costs, while inflation excluding the volatile food and energy components remained tame.
Minutes of the Federal Reserve’s March 19-20 policy meeting published on Wednesday described inflation as “muted,” though officials expected it to rise to or near the US central bank’s 2pc target. The Fed’s preferred inflation measure, the core personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index, is currently at 1.8pc. US financial markets were little moved by the data.
Excluding petroleum, import prices rose 0.2pc after rising by the same margin the prior month. These so-called core prices were down 0.3pc from a year earlier. Increases in core import prices have been curbed by last year’s strength in the dollar.
Export prices rose 0.7pc in March, after rising by the same margin in February. Economists had expected a 0.2pc gain. Export prices rose 0.6pc on a year-on-year basis in March after rising 0.3pc in February.