U.S. producer prices rise less than expected in February


WASHINGTON, March 13 () - U.S. producer prices barely rose in February, resulting in the smallest annual increase in more than 1-1/2 years, in the latest sign of benign inflation that supports the Federal Reserve's wait-and-see approach to further interest rate hikes this year.

The Labor Department said on Wednesday its producer price index for final demand edged up 0.1 percent last month, lifted by a rebound in the cost of gasoline. The PPI had dropped for three straight months.

In the 12 months through February, the PPI rose 1.9 percent.

A key gauge of underlying producer price pressures that excludes food, energy and trade services rose 0.1 percent last month after climbing 0.2 percent in January. The so-called core PPI increased 2.3 percent in the 12 months through February, the smallest rise since December 2017, after advancing 2.5 percent in January.

Data on Tuesday showed consumer prices rising moderately in February, with the consumer price index posting its smallest annual gain in nearly 2-1/2 years.

Slowing domestic and global growth are keeping inflation contained even as a tight labor market boosts wage growth. An improvement in productivity is curbing labor costs for companies and the dollar strength last year is weighing on prices of imported goods.

The Fed has pledged to be "patient" before tightening monetary policy further. The U.S. central bank raised interest rates four times in 2018.

Last month, wholesale energy prices rose 1.8 percent, with gasoline prices rebounding 3.3 percent. Energy prices dropped 3.8 percent in January. Wholesale food prices fell 0.3 percent in February after dropping 1.7 percent in the prior month.

Overall, the cost of wholesale goods increased 0.4 percent in February after tumbling 0.8 percent in January. Core goods edged up 0.1 percent after rising 0.3 percent in January.

The cost of services was unchanged in February after rising 0.3 percent in the prior month.

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