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US import prices fall for 10th straight month

[WASHINGTON] US import prices fell for a 10th straight month in April, likely reflecting the impact of a strong dollar, a sign of benign inflation pressures that could encourage the Federal Reserve to delay raising interest rates.

The Labor Department said on Wednesday import prices fell 0.3 per cent last month after slipping 0.2 per cent in March.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast import prices rising 0.3 per cent.

In the 12 months through April prices fell 10.7 per cent.

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The dollar, which has gained about 11 per cent against the currencies of the United States' main trading partners since June, and lower crude oil prices are keeping a lid on price pressures.

That has left inflation running well below the Fed's 2 per cent target.

Persistently low inflation gives the US central bank ample room to keep its ultra-low interest rate policy a while longer, while it looks for strong signals of the economy's recovery after it weakened sharply in the first quarter.

The Fed has kept its key short-term interest rate near zero since Dec 2008.

Last month, imported petroleum prices rose 1.0 per cent after increasing 1.6 per cent in March.

Import prices excluding petroleum fell 0.4 per cent in April after a similar decline in March. Imported food prices slipped 0.9 per cent after dropping 0.7 per cent in March.

The report also showed export prices declined 0.7 per cent last month after edging up 0.1 per cent in March. Export prices fell 6.3 per cent in the 12 months through April.