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March CPI shows food outpacing overall inflation

WASHINGTON Consumer prices for food outpaced overall inflation slightly in March as the government’s monthly Consumer Price Index rose 0.9 percent before seasonal adjustment, but was up 4.0 percent from March 2007, federal authorities reported Wednesday.

Overall, the Labor Department said, the price consumers paid for food and beverage items rose 4.4 percent in March compared with year-ago levels for the month, including a 4.7-percent rise in the price of food at home and a 4.1-percent jump in food away from home.

By comparison, consumers’ expenditures on housing rose 3 percent last month, versus year-earlier results, as fuels and utilities climbed 6.5 percent and gasoline for vehicles was up 26 percent from March 2007 levels.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, all consumer items gauged by the CPI rose this year from February to March by 0.3 percent as food increased 0.2 percent, including a 0.3-percent increase in food away from home.

On Tuesday, the Labor Department’s report on the monthly Producer Price Index indicated that record spikes in food and energy drove domestic wholesale prices for March to their second-largest monthly increase in 33 years. After declining 0.5 percent in February, wholesale food prices rose 1.2 percent last month as vegetables jumped 15.4 percent, milled rice climbed 8.7 percent and beef and veal increased 4.0 percent.

Wholesale energy prices grew 2.9 percent in March after rising 0.8 percent in February.

The overall U.S. producer price index advanced 1.1 percent last month, after the PPI rose 0.3 percent in February on a seasonally adjusted basis, the department said. Excluding food and energy, the core wholesale index rose 0.2 percent in March, versus 0.5 percent in February and 0.4 percent in January. For the 12 months ended in March, wholesale prices advanced 6.9 percent on an unadjusted basis.

March’s sharp PPI jump in wholesale food prices could be expected to prompt accelerated pass-throughs that would appear as higher consumer price results in coming CPI reports from the government. However, some analysts were seeing signs of moderating food inflation at the consumer level because CPI figures for March showed lower prices for such things as dairy goods, alcoholic beverages and breakfast cereals, compared with monthly spikes a year earlier.

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