US import prices post third straight monthly gain in March

By Thomson Reuters Apr 12, 2024 | 8:06 AM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. import prices increased for a third straight month in March amid rises in the costs of energy products and food, but underlying imported inflation pressures were tame.

Import prices rose 0.4% last month after an unrevised 0.3% gain in February, the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics said on Friday. Economists polled by Reuters had expected import prices, which exclude tariffs, to rise 0.3%.

In the 12 months through March, import prices rebounded 0.4%. That was the first year-on-year increase since January 2023, and followed a 0.9% decline in February.

Inflation readings were mixed in March, with consumer prices rising solidly while producer prices increased moderately, government data showed this week.

The firmer-than-expected consumer price inflation data in the wake of a strong employment report in March led financial markets and most economists to push back expectations for a first Federal Reserve interest rate cut to September from June.

The U.S. central bank has kept its policy rate in the 5.25%-5.50% range since July. It has raised its benchmark overnight interest rate by 525 basis points since March 2022.

Imported fuel prices increased 4.7% in March after rising 1.3% in February. The cost of imported food shot up 1.6% after climbing 0.3% in the prior month.

Excluding fuels and food, import prices were unchanged. These so-called core import prices edged up 0.1% in February. Core import prices fell 0.4% year-on-year in March.

Prices for imported capital goods dropped 0.3% last month. The cost of motor vehicles, parts and engines rose 0.2%. Imported consumer goods prices excluding automotives fell 0.3%.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)