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US import prices rise as cost of petroleum products jumps

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US import prices rose in April for a second straight month as the cost of petroleum products and a range of other goods increased, suggesting inflation could start firming in the months ahead.

[WASHINGTON] US import prices rose in April for a second straight month as the cost of petroleum products and a range of other goods increased, suggesting inflation could start firming in the months ahead.

The Labour Department said on Thursday that import prices increased 0.3 per cent last month after an upwardly revised 0.3 per cent gain in March. The rise last month reflected a pick-up in oil prices and the dollar's depreciation.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast import prices rising 0.5 per cent in April after March's previously reported 0.2 per cent advance.

Prices for imported goods were down 5.7 per cent in the 12 months through April, reflecting the lingering effects of the dollar's sharp rally and the oil price plunge between June 2014 and December 2015.

Last month's increase in import prices implied that the disinflationary impulse from a stronger dollar, which has helped to hold inflation well below the Federal Reserve's 2 per cent target, was fading.

The dollar has this year weakened 2.5 per cent against the currencies of the United States' main trading partners. The greenback gained 20 per cent on a trade-weighted basis between June 2014 and December 2015. At the same time, oil prices have pushed off multi-year lows.

Imported petroleum prices increased 4.1 per cent last month after rising 9.6 per cent in March.

Import prices excluding petroleum edged up 0.1 per cent, the first increase since March 2014.

Imported food prices jumped 1.3 per cent last month, also the largest gain since March 2014. Prices for imported industrial supplies and materials excluding petroleum increased 0.4 per cent.

Prices for imported capital goods slipped 0.1 per cent, while the cost of imported automobiles edged up 0.1 per cent. Prices for imported consumer goods excluding autos fell 0.3 per cent.

The report also showed export prices increased 0.5 per cent in April, the largest rise since May 2015, after being flat in March. Export prices were down 5.0 percent from a year ago.

REUTERS