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In this April 11, 2014 photo made with a fisheye lens, gasoline is pumped into an automobile at a Phillips 66 gas station in Little Rock, Ark. Lower U.S. gasoline prices kept consumer inflation in check last month, helping to offset higher costs for food and clothing. The Labor Department said Tuesday, April 15, 2014, that the consumer price index rose 0.2 percent in March, after scant 0.1 percent increases in the previous two months (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)
Bad weather boosts Utah prices
Zions consumer index » Groceries overall jumped 1 percent due to global inclement weather.
First Published Apr 15 2014 08:59 am • Last Updated Apr 16 2014 07:26 am

Have you been missing that lime in your soda or on you favorite dish of pad thai?

The reason for the green citrus fruit’s absence is one of economics: the price per case of limes shot up from $14 to a whopping $100 after weather heavily damaged southern Mexico’s lime crop.

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It was one of several factors that drove up the Zions Bank Wasatch Front Consumer Price Index by 0.7 percent from February to March. Over the past 12 months, prices have increased 1.4 percent in Utah.

Groceries overall jumped 1 percent due to global inclement weather. The cost of beef and veal has shot up significantly — 4 percent, which is the largest month-over-month increase in more than 10 years, according to the U.S . Department of Agriculture. Drought for the second-straight year drove up the prices for cattle feed, and herds are down to sizes not seen in more than 50 years. Prices are expected to continue to rise over the next several months.

Other factors pushing up the consumer index included higher gas prices — Utahns paid an average of $3.35 a gallon in March, a bump from $3.14 in February and $3.11 in January.

We are now in the midst of the seasonal gasoline price increase," said Scott Anderson, Zions Bank president and CEO. "Although these price increases are frustrating for consumers, this seasonal increase is no reason to fret. Our local economy will remain strong even as gasoline prices march higher until mid-summer, when prices will begin to drop again as fall approaches."

In other categories, utility prices rose 1.3 percent from February to March due to increasing propane prices across the Beehive State. Housing and clothing both rose 0.6 percent due to significantly higher hotel and motel costs and new spring fashion lines. Decreases came in education and communication prices — a drop of 0.5 percent due to a decrease in telephone service prices, and recreation prices decreased 0.1 percent.

Nationally, the Labor Department said Tuesday that the consumer price index rose 0.2 percent in March, after scant 0.1 percent increases in the previous two months. Prices have risen just 1.5 percent year over year. That remains well below the Federal Reserve’s 2 percent target for inflation.

Excluding the volatile food and energy categories, core prices increased 0.2 percent in March and 1.7 percent in the past year.

Prices at the gas pump tumbled 1.7 percent in March, lowering costs for the overall energy category.

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But food prices jumped 0.4 percent, led by increases in eggs, milk, butter, oranges, pork chops, ground beef and poultry. Prices for clothing, used cars and cable television also rose.

Overall, signs point to continued low inflation. Sluggish growth and a tough job market have limited price increases, making it harder for retailers and other businesses to charge more.

"Prices are creeping higher," said Jennifer Lee, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets, "but with wage growth still modest and lots of retail competition, inflation should remain in check for now."

— The Associated Press contributed to this article.


Twitter: @sheena5427

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