US import prices rise at slower pace


US import prices rose at a slower pace in April as petroleum and food cost increases moderated, supporting views the recent jump in commodity prices was likely to be transitory.

Overall import prices increased 2.2 per cent for a seventh straight month of gains, the Labor Department said, slowing from a 2.6 per cent increase in March.

The increase was, however, above economists' expectations for a 1.8 per cent rise.

The report came on the heels of a collapse in commodity prices last week, which pulled down crude oil prices from their lofty levels. US crude oil has fallen to about $102 a barrel from more than $114 at the start of May.

"If these falls were to be maintained, the rates at which import prices are increasing would slow and that would mean less upward pressure on CPI," said Paul Dales, a senior US economist at Capital Economics in Toronto.

Excluding volatile petroleum, import prices were up 0.6 per cent after rising 0.4 per cent the prior month. In the 12 months to April, import prices rose 11.1 per cent overall and 4.3 per cent excluding petroleum.

Stripping out both petroleum and food, import prices rose 0.5 per cent in April after a 0.3 per cent rise in March.

Federal Reserve officials generally view the recent surge in food and energy prices as unlikely to translate into broader inflation. The monthly rise in import prices reflected a 7.2 per cent increase in imported petroleum prices, which followed a 9.8 per cent advance in March.

Imported food prices increased 1.8 per cent, slowing sharply from a 4.2 per cent rise in March.

The Labor Department report showed export prices rose 1.1 per cent after increasing 1.5 per cent in March. Analysts had expected export prices to gain 0.9 per cent.

In the 12 months to April, export prices rose 9.6 per cent. Export prices were lifted by gains in foods and industrial supplies and materials.