U.S. import prices resume downward trend in March

Fri Apr 10, 2015 9:01am EDT
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By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. import prices fell in March as rising petroleum costs were offset by declining prices for other goods, a sign of muted inflation that supports the view the Federal Reserve will probably not raise interest rates in June.

The Labor Department said on Friday import prices dropped 0.3 percent last month after a downwardly revised 0.2 percent gain in February.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast import prices slipping 0.3 percent after a previously reported 0.4 percent increase in February, when prices advanced after declining for seven straight months.

In the 12 months through March, prices plunged 10.5 percent, the largest drop since September 2009.

U.S. government debt prices were largely unchanged after the data, while the dollar gained against a basket of currencies. U.S. stock index futures were mixed.

Lower crude oil prices and a buoyant dollar have dampened price pressures, leaving inflation running well below the Fed's 2 percent target.

Officials at the central bank, some of whom have shown a willingness to consider a rate hike at the June policy-setting meeting, view the low inflation environment as transitory.

But the combination of low inflation and weak economic growth in the first quarter has prompted many economists to push back their rate hike expectations to later in the year.   Continued...

Containers are seen stacked up at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, California February 6, 2015 in this aerial image. REUTERS/Bob Riha Jr