US import prices record small increase

USA producer prices fell for the first time in almost 1-1/2 years in December amid declining costs for services, which could temper expectations that inflation will accelerate in 2018.

The Labor Department said on Wednesday import prices edged up 0.1 percent last month after accelerating 0.8 percent in November. It was the first monthly drop since August 2016.

Compared to the same month a year ago, producer prices were up by 2.6% in December and core producer prices were up by 2.3%. On an unadjusted basis, the final demand index climbed 2.6 percent in 2017 after a 1.7-percent rise in 2016.

Producer prices decreased 0.1% in December, seasonally adjusted, after growing 0.4% in November, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Excluding food and energy prices, core producer prices still dipped by 0.1% in December following a 0.3% increase in November. It rose 2.3 percent in the 12 months through December.

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Wholesale gas prices dropped 3.9 percent last month, suggesting consumers may soon see some savings at the gas pump. It gained 2.3 percent in 2017 after rising 1.8 percent in 2016.

Energy prices came in unchanged during the month of December after surging up by 4.6% in the previous month. That was the smallest gain since July and was well below economists' expectations for a 0.5 percent increase. The Fed's preferred inflation measure, the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index excluding food and energy, has undershot its target since May 2012. The greenback lost 7 percent of its value against the currencies of the United States' main trading partners a year ago. It raised rates three times past year. Its forecast of three rate hikes for this year will depend on the inflation outlook.

Prices for final demand transportation and warehousing services fell 0.4 percent. That reflected a 10.7 percent drop in margin for automotive fuels and lubricants retailing. The decrease can be traced to prices for services less trade, transportation, and warehousing for intermediate demand, which fell 0.1 percent. While the correlation between those two reports and the consumer price index is weak, they underscore the challenge for the Fed to achieve its 2 percent inflation target.

The index for final demand services moved down 0.2 percent in December following nine consecutive increases. Those costs feed into the core PCE price index.

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