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story.lead_photo.caption Prices for gasoline were edging higher this week in Apple Valley, Calif., and across the country, but despite higher energy and food costs in March, overall inflation stayed in check.

WASHINGTON -- U.S. consumer prices climbed 0.4 percent in March, an increase caused mostly by higher costs for gasoline, electricity and shelter.

The Labor Department said Wednesday that the consumer price index rose a healthy 1.9 percent last month from a year ago, a sharp jump from the annual pace of 1.5 percent in February.

Inflation has been relatively modest even as the job market has strengthened and wage gains have accelerated over the past several years. President Donald Trump's administration has been highlighting the meager inflation as the president calls on the Federal Reserve to cut a key short-term interest rate.

"Overall, the March CPI data is another month of Goldilocks inflation," said Leslie Preston, a senior economist at TD Bank. "Not too hot that the Fed needs to re-evaluate its pause, and not so cold that it needs to consider easing policy."

Still, commodity prices for gasoline and electricity roared in March, eating into wage growth. Average hourly wages have increased 1.3 percent in the past year, down from an annual gain of 1.9 percent in February.

Roughly 60 percent of inflation last month came from an increase in energy prices.

The figures for the broad consumer price index reflected higher gasoline prices after the rally in crude oil this year. Energy prices rose 3.5 percent from the previous month as gasoline prices advanced 6.5 percent, the most since September 2017. Food costs climbed 0.3 percent.

Core prices, which exclude the volatile energy and food categories, increased 0.1 percent in March and 2 percent from a year ago.

Housing costs are also increasing faster than overall inflation, surging 3.4 percent from a year ago. But prices for clothing and medical care commodities have fallen over the past year, while inflation has been subdued for new vehicles and used cars and trucks.

The report showed used-car prices fell 0.4 percent in March, the third drop in four months, while new-car prices advanced 0.4 percent in the biggest gain since June.

Apparel prices fell 1.9 percent from the previous month, the most since 1949, and were down 2.2 percent from a year earlier. The category accounts for 3.1 percent of the core price index.

The consumer price index is the broadest of three price gauges from the Labor Department because it includes all goods and services. About 60 percent of the index covers the prices that consumers pay for services such as medical visits, airline fares, movie tickets and rent.

Information for this article was contributed by Josh Boak of The Associated Press and by Katia Dmitrieva of Bloomberg News.

Business on 04/11/2019

Print Headline: Consumer prices pick up 0.4%

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