U.S. import prices rose in March for the first time in nine months as the cost of petroleum products increased, but the lingering effects of a strong dollar suggested inflation will continue to increase gradually.
The Labor Department said on Tuesday import prices gained 0.2 percent last month after a downwardly revised 0.4 percent drop in February. It was the first time since June that import prices rose and the largest increase since May.
The increase, however, was less than economists' expectations for a 1.0 percent gain. Import prices were previously reported to have declined 0.3 percent in February.
Prices of imported products were down 6.2 percent in the 12 months through March, suggesting import deflation will linger for a while. Weak import prices have contributed to holding inflation below the Federal Reserve's 2 percent target.
Benign inflation has been a key factor in the U.S. central bank's policy of gradually raising interest rates even as the labor market tightens.