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US consumer prices show biggest annual increase since 2012

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The US cost of living rose in February, while prices increased from a year ago by the most since March 2012, reinforcing the view that inflation is in line with the Federal Reserve's goal.

[WASHINGTON] The US cost of living rose in February, while prices increased from a year ago by the most since March 2012, reinforcing the view that inflation is in line with the Federal Reserve's goal.

The consumer-price index climbed 0.1 per cent from the previous month after a 0.6 per cent January advance that was the largest in nearly four years, Labor Department figures showed on Wednesday. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey called for no change. Compared with February 2016, the CPI was up 2.7 per cent.

The figures are consistent with the Fed's inflation objective and, combined with a labor market at or near full employment, help explain why policy makers will probably raise interest rates later Wednesday. Some commodity prices have rebounded and other costs including rents and medical expenses continue to firm up.

Bloomberg survey estimates for the consumer price index ranged from a 0.1 per cent decline to a 0.2 per cent gain.

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The core CPI measure, which excludes volatile food and fuel costs, rose 0.2 per cent after a 0.3 per cent gain in the previous month. It increased 2.2 per cent from February 2016, after rising 2.3 per cent.

The Bloomberg survey median called for the core index to rise 0.2 per cent from the previous month and 2.2 per cent from the prior year.

The Fed's preferred gauge of inflation, which is the Commerce Department's personal consumption expenditures measure, climbed 1.9 per cent in January from a year earlier. It hasn't matched the central bank's 2 per cent goal since April 2012.

Energy costs decreased 1 per cent from a month earlier, the first decline since July and reflecting a 3 per cent drop in gasoline, the Labor Department's report showed. Food prices rose 0.2 per cent, the biggest advance since September 2015.

Expenses climbed in February for shelter, recreation, clothing, air fares and medical care.  Prices fell for new and used vehicles and household furnishings.

Expenses for shelter climbed 0.3 per cent. Owners-equivalent rent, one of the categories designed to track rental prices, also rose 0.3 per cent.

Expenses for medical care increased 0.1 per cent. These readings often vary from results for this category within the Fed's preferred measure of inflation. Economists attribute the discrepancy to different methodologies.

The CPI is the broadest of three price gauges from the Labor Department because it includes all goods and services. About 60 per cent of the index covers prices consumers pay for services from medical visits to airline fares, movie tickets and rents.

The rise in the cost of living over the past year has meant little in the way of bigger paychecks, a separate report from the Labor Department showed. Hourly earnings adjusted for inflation were unchanged from February 2016.

BLOOMBERG

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