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Economy in Brief

U.S. Import Prices Surge With Oil & Food Costs
by Tom Moeller  April 12, 2011

Surging oil prices lifted overall U.S. import prices last month. Prices jumped 2.7% after an unrevised 1.4% February increase. The gain was stronger than Consensus expectations for a 2.1% rise. It was paced by a 10.5% surge in petroleum costs while nonpetroleum prices rose by a diminished 0.3%.

Indeed, earlier strength in petroleum prices continued last month. Brent crude oil prices rose to an average $112.77 per barrel compared to $101.46 in February. During March, non-oil import prices rose a revised 0.7% and 4.1% y/y. (The y/y change in non-oil import prices during the last ten years has had an 81% inverse correlation with the nominal trade-weighted exchange value of the US dollar vs. major currencies.)

Earlier strength in imported food & beverage prices intensified with a 4.2% March increase, up 18.9% y/y. Prices for nonoil industrial supplies rose a diminished 0.5% (12.3% y/y). Prices for non-auto consumer goods fell 0.2% (+0.3% y/y). Home entertainment equipment prices declined 10.0% y/y but furniture prices rose 2.9%. Apparel prices rose 5.2% y/y. Imported auto prices rose 1.6% during the last twelve months while imported capital goods prices moved 0.9% higher. Computer & peripherals prices fell 3.9% y/y but excluding computers, capital goods prices rose 2.7%.

Total export prices jumped another 1.5% last month and rose a strong 9.5% y/y. The strength reflected a more than one-third y/y increase in agricultural prices. Non-agricultural goods prices also were strong with a 1.3% gain last month and 7.0% y/y. Strength has been notable for industrial supplies, up 21.4% y/y, and non-auto consumer goods, up 3.4% y/y.

The import and export price series can be found in Haver's USECON database. Detailed figures are available in the USINT database. The expectations figure is in the AS1REPNA database

Commodity Prices, the Economic Outlook, and Monetary Policy is the title of yesterday's speech by Fed Vice Chair Janet L. Yellen and it can be found here.

Import/Export Prices (NSA, %) Mar Feb Jan Mar Y/Y 2010 2009 2008
Imports - All Commodities 2.7 1.4 1.5 9.7 6.9 -11.5 11.5
  Petroleum 10.5 4.0 3.8 31.3 28.4 -35.9 37.7
  Nonpetroleum 0.3 0.7 0.9 4.1 2.8 -4.1 5.3
Exports - All Commodities 1.5 1.4 1.2 9.5 4.9 -4.6 6.0
  Agricultural 2.3 4.6 3.0 34.0 7.9 -12.8 21.6
  Nonagricultural 1.3 1.0 1.0 7.0 4.6 -3.7 4.5
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