Rising gas and food prices fuel inflation, US says

By Christine Hauser
New York Times / May 14, 2011

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NEW YORK — Consumers continued to feel the pinch at grocery stores and gasoline stations in April as higher prices pushed up a widely used index of inflation to the fastest 12-month pace since the later part of 2008, according to government figures released yesterday.

The Labor Department said the consumer price index, the most widely used measure of inflation, was up 0.4 percent in April from March, and up 3.2 percent from a year earlier.

The 12-month figure represents the biggest jump in the index in any 12-month period since October 2008.

Analysts had forecast the same monthly rise but a slightly smaller increase for the year, at 3.1 percent.

Food and gasoline price rises accounted for most of the increases, with gasoline accounting for almost half of the month-to-month rise.

Food prices were up 0.4 percent in April, smaller than the 0.8 percent rise in March as prices for fresh vegetables slowed their advance.

Energy prices rose 2.2 percent in April, the 10th consecutive monthly increase, although the rise was smaller than the increases of 3.5 percent in March and 3.4 percent in February, the report said.

Gasoline prices were up 3.3 percent in April. The report said energy prices have risen 19 percent over the past 12 months, with gas prices up 33.1 percent.

Consumers are “painfully aware’’ that if high energy and food costs continue, “the cost of living is going to go up,’’ said Stuart Hoffman, the chief economist at the PNC Financial Services Group.

Inflation as measured by the core CPI, which strips out volatile prices for energy and food, edged up 0.2 percent in April, making it the third increase of that size in the past four months, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said.

Housing and apparel prices each climbed by 0.2 percent, the figures showed.

Core inflation was up 1.3 percent from a year earlier, the department said. The core index, which was also in line with analysts’ forecasts, was also pushed up by rises in the prices of new vehicles, shelter, medical care, and airline tickets.

“I think that you are seeing inflation drift higher,’’ said Joshua Shapiro, chief US economist at MFR Inc. “On the core side it is a slow drift, but it is nonetheless there. What will be important to the Fed is the mix between inflation and real growth.’’