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Prices of goods imported into the U.S. rose in January for the first time in three months, led by more expensive fuel and building materials.
The 0.6 percent gain in the import-price index followed a revised 0.5 percent decline in December that was larger than initially estimated, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. Economists projected a 0.8 percent advance in January, according to the median forecast in a Bloomberg survey. Prices excluding fuel advanced 0.2 percent.
Demand for commodities including crude oil is starting to stir amid signs the world economy is stabilizing. The cost of imports was down 1.3 percent from January 2012, showing limited price pressures will allow Federal Reserve officials to maintain record monetary policy stimulus.
“The global economy has started to turn a corner, which will put some pressure on oil prices,” Jacob Oubina, senior economist at RBC Capital Markets LLC in New York, said before the report. “It would be a risk if we maintained these price pressures, but doing so would be pretty difficult in this still lackluster demand environment.”
Projections for import prices ranged from increases of 0.2 percent to 1.2 percent, according to the Bloomberg survey of 42 economists. The January gain was the most since September.
Figures from the Commerce Department showed retail sales rose in January for a third consecutive month as labor market progress helped Americans overcome an increase in the payroll tax. The 0.1 percent advance followed a 0.5 percent increase in December.
Stock-index futures held earlier gains after the reports. The contract on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index maturing in March rose 0.2 percent to 1,519 at 8:34 a.m. in New York.
The drop in the 12 months to January compared with a 1.9 percent year-over-year decrease in December.
The cost of imported fuel climbed 2.4 percent last month from December and was down 5.2 percent from a year earlier. Crude oil has hovered near the highest price since March 2012. Brent oil for March delivery has increased about 30 percent through yesterday’s close from a low of $91.08 on June 21.
Prices of imported building materials jumped 2.9 percent after a 1.5 percent gain a month earlier and reflecting increased demand from U.S. homebuilders.
Imported food was 0.5 percent more expensive last month, today’s report showed.
Prices for imported automobiles climbed 0.1 percent and were up 1.5 percent from January 2012.
Consumer goods excluding vehicles also showed a 0.1 percent price gain. They were up 0.2 percent over the past 12 months.
Global economic growth that’s now starting to regain its footing may not yet lead to a sustained acceleration in raw materials costs. China’s expansion quickened for the first time in two years in the fourth quarter. The euro-area economy shrank less rapidly in the third quarter.
“We anticipate a more moderate year of commodity inflation,” Muhtar Kent, Coca-Cola Co.’s president and chief executive officer, said in a Feb. 12 earnings call with investors. Kent said for the world’s largest soft drink maker’s “big four” commodities, which include sweeteners, metals, juices and plastic components, incremental costs would total about $100 million this year. Those costs totaled around $225 million for 2012, Kent said.
Fed officials in the U.S. have indicated they see inflation remaining moderate in the near future, staying below their 2 percent target.
“Inflation has been running somewhat below the Committee’s longer-run objective, apart from temporary variations that largely reflect fluctuations in energy prices. Longer-term inflation expectations have remained stable,” the Federal Open Market Committee said in a Jan. 30 statement.
The cost of imported goods from China decreased 0.1 percent and down 1 percent in the past 12 months.
Imported goods from Japan fell 0.2 percent, the biggest drop since September 2008, while the cost of goods from the European Union jumped 1.1 percent, the most since March 2011. Goods from Mexico increased 0.6 percent.
U.S. export prices increased 0.3 percent in January, today’s report also showed, after falling 0.1 percent the previous month. Prices of farm exports slumped 1.3 percent and those of non-farm goods increased 0.5 percent.
The import-price index is the first of three monthly price gauges from the Labor Department. The producer-price index is due Feb. 20, and the consumer-price index is scheduled the following day.
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