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US import prices rise more than expected in January

  • U.S. import prices rose more than expected in January.
  • The cost of imported petroleum and a range of other goods increased.
A container ship at the Port of Oakland in Oakland, California.
Getty Images
A container ship at the Port of Oakland in Oakland, California.

U.S. import prices rose more than expected in January as the cost of imported petroleum and a range of other goods increased, which could boost inflation in the coming months.

The Labor Department said on Friday that import prices jumped 1.0 percent last month after an upwardly revised 0.2 percent rise in December. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast import prices increasing 0.6 percent in January after a previously reported 0.1 percent gain in December.

In the 12 months through January, import prices increased 3.6 percent, the largest advance since April 2017, quickening from a 3.2 percent rise in December.

Data this week showed an acceleration in consumer and producer prices in January. The increases have bolstered expectations that inflation will rise this year and potentially breach the Federal Reserve's 2 percent target.

Inflation is expected to be driven by a tightening labor market, a weak dollar and fiscal stimulus in the form of a $1.5 trillion tax cut package and increased government spending.

Higher inflation could prompt the Fed to be a bit more aggressive in raising interest rates this year than is currently anticipated. The U.S. central bank has forecast three rate increases for this year, with the first hike expected in March.

Last month, prices for imported petroleum increased 4.3 percent after rising 2.3 percent in December. Import prices excluding petroleum gained 0.5 percent, the largest increase since July 2016, after being unchanged in the prior month.

The rise in imported prices excluding petroleum likely reflects the dollar's depreciation against the currencies of the United States' main trading partners.

Import prices excluding petroleum increased 1.9 percent in the 12 months through January. Imported capital goods prices edged up 0.1 percent last month, while the cost of imported food surged 0.8 percent.

Prices for imported motor vehicles jumped 0.5 percent. Prices of consumer goods excluding automobiles were unchanged.

The report also showed export prices rose 0.8 percent in January after ticking up 0.1 percent in December. Export prices increased 3.4 percent on a year-on-year basis, the biggest gain since last March, after rising 2.8 percent in December.