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Beyond gas, consumer prices stay level in U.S., Utah

Published March 16, 2012 8:12 am

Costs • In Utah gas rose more than 50 cents in past month.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A sharp jump in gas prices drove a measure of U.S. consumer costs up in February. But outside higher pump prices, inflation stayed mild.

The Labor Department said Friday that the U.S. consumer price index rose 0.4 percent in February, the largest increase in 10 months. Gas prices rose 6 percent to account for most of the gain.

In Utah, the Zions Bank consumer price index increased 0.2 percent last month as transportation costs went up by the same percentage. The average price of a gallon of regular gasoline in Utah increased 15 cents in February and is up more than 50 cents in the past month.

U.S. food prices were unchanged for the first time in 19 months. And excluding food and energy, so-called core prices rose just 0.1 percent. Prices for food consumed at home in Utah dropped 0.9 percent.

Mild inflation allows the Federal Reserve to maintain its low interest-rate policy.

Most economists expect inflation to remain in check this year. The prices of agricultural commodities such as corn and cotton have come down. And although more Americans are working, few are getting big pay raises. That has limited retailers' ability to charge more.

In the past 12 months, consumer prices have risen 2.9 percent nationally, the same year-over-year change as last month. Core prices have increased 2.2 percent over the same period. That's lower than January's year-over-year figure.

Still, gasoline prices keep rising. The jump at the pump could slow growth if consumers are forced to cut back on other purchases. The U.S. average price for a gallon of gas on Friday was $3.83, according to AAA ($3.63 in Utah). That's 32 cents higher than a month ago nationally.

Consumers are seeing relief elsewhere.

Grocery store prices appear to be leveling off after increasing for most of the past two years. Consumers paid less last month for vegetables, dairy products, meat, fish and eggs.

Clothing costs dropped by the most in more than five years in February, and airfares dipped.

Natural gas prices dropped sharply last month and have declined nearly 10 percent in the past year.

But other items cost more. Consumers paid more for prescription drugs, hotel rooms and new cars. Rental costs rose 0.2 percent for the fourth straight month.