U.S. import prices recorded their biggest increase in more than four years in May on rising costs of petroleum and other products, pointing to firming inflation as the drag from a strong dollar and lower oil prices fades.
The Labor Department said on Tuesday import prices increased 1.4 percent last month, the largest rise since March 2012, after an upwardly revised 0.7 percent gain in April.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast import prices rising 0.7 percent in May after April's previously reported 0.3 percent gain. In the 12 months through May, import prices fell 5.0 percent, the smallest decline since November 2014.
The dollar's surge and a plunge in oil prices between June 2014 and December 2015 had dampened inflation. But with the dollar weakening 1.5 percent against the currencies of the United States' main trading partners this year and oil prices near $50 per barrel, that drag is starting to lift.
Last month, imported petroleum prices surged 17.4 percent, the largest increase since 1999, after rising 11.0 percent in April.
Import prices excluding petroleum rose 0.4 percent, the first monthly increase since March 2014, after being unchanged in April.
Imported food prices climbed 0.3 percent last month.
Prices for imported industrial supplies and materials excluding petroleum increased 1.6 percent, the biggest rise since February 2014.
Imported capital goods prices were unchanged, while the cost of imported automobiles increased 0.2 percent. That was the biggest gain since April 2014. Prices for imported consumer goods excluding autos edged up 0.1 percent.
The report also showed export prices jumped 1.1 percent in May, the biggest gain since March 2011, after rising 0.5 percent in April. Export prices fell 4.5 percent from a year ago, the smallest drop since December 2014.