US import prices rise sharply


US import prices rose in March by the most in nearly a year on sharply higher petroleum costs, but prices outside food and energy climbed more modestly.

Overall import prices rose 1.3 per cent, the Labor Department said today. That was the biggest gain since April 2011.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected import prices to rise 0.8 per cent last month. February's data was revised to show a 0.1 per cent decline instead of the previously reported 0.4 per cent increase.

Stripping out petroleum, import prices increased 0.3 per cent after falling 0.1 per cent in February.

Higher costs for energy have fuelled inflation in recent months but a still-weak jobs market has made it harder for businesses to raise other prices.

A report last week showing slower job growth in March has fuelled speculation the US Federal Reserve could ease monetary policy further. Most major Wall Street firms expect the Fed to launch a third round of bond buying, a Reuters poll found on Monday.

Data tomorrow is expected to show tame price pressures at a wholesale level, with producer prices seen rising 0.2 per cent in March when stripping out food and energy.

But today’s report underscores the size of the price shock that is stinging Americans when they refuel their cars.

Last month, imported petroleum prices increased 4.3 per cent, the biggest gain since April 2011.

Elsewhere, imported capital goods prices edged 0.2 per cent higher after being flat in February. Imported motor vehicle prices climbed 0.3 per cent after being unchanged in February.

The Labor Department report also showed export prices rose 0.8 per cent last month, above analysts' expectations for a 0.4 per cent gain. Export prices increased 0.4 per cent in February.