Import prices post biggest drop in more than three years

  • The Labor Department said on Thursday import prices dropped 1.6 percent last month, the biggest decline since August 2015
  • The report came on the heels of data showing weak overall producer and consumer inflation readings in November
  • The central bank is expected to hike rates at its Dec. 18-19 policy meeting. It has lifted borrowing costs three times this year.
A spotter lines up a truck before a container is loaded from a ship in the Seagirt Marine Terminal at the Port of Baltimore.
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images
A spotter lines up a truck before a container is loaded from a ship in the Seagirt Marine Terminal at the Port of Baltimore.

U.S. import prices fell by the most in more than three years in November as the cost of petroleum products tumbled and a strong dollar weighed on prices of other goods, pointing to subdued imported inflation in the near term.

The Labor Department said on Thursday import prices dropped 1.6 percent last month, the biggest decline since August 2015, after an unrevised 0.5 percent increase in October.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast import prices decreasing 0.9 percent in November.

In the 12 months through November, import prices rose 0.7 percent. That was the smallest annual increase since November 2016 and followed a 3.3 percent rise in October.

The report came on the heels of data showing weak overall producer and consumer inflation readings in November. It supports economists' expectations that inflation could remain moderate through the first half of 2019.

The Federal Reserve's preferred inflation measure, the core PCE price index excluding food and energy, increased 1.8 percent on a year-on-year basis in October, the smallest gain since February, after rising 1.9 percent in the prior month.

It hit the U.S. central bank's 2 percent target in March for the first time since April 2012. Most economists expect the Fed will raise interest rates twice next year, although traders expect no more than one rate increase.

The central bank is expected to hike rates at its Dec. 18-19 policy meeting. It has lifted borrowing costs three times this year.

Last month, prices for imported fuels and lubricants tumbled 11.0 percent after rising 3.2 percent in October. Prices for imported petroleum plunged 12.1 percent, the biggest drop since January 2016, after increasing 2.7 percent in October.

Oil prices have fallen by a third since the start of October amid concerns about oversupply and a slowing global economy.

Food prices declined 2.2 percent in November, reversing October's 2.2 percent gain. Excluding fuels and food, import prices fell 0.2 percent last month after being unchanged in October. The so-called core import prices rose 0.4 percent in the 12 months through November.

The weak core import price readings reflect the strong dollar, which has gained about 8.0 percent this year against the currencies of the United States' main trade partners.

The report also showed export prices fell 0.9 percent in November, the biggest drop since January 2016, after climbing 0.5 percent in October. A 1.8 percent rebound in prices of agricultural exports was partly offset by a 1.0 percent drop in prices of nonagricultural goods.

Export prices increased 1.8 percent on a year-on-year basis in November after rising 3.1 percent in October.