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Economy in Brief

U.S. Initial Jobless Insurance Claims Slip To Low-End Of Recent Range
by Tom Moeller May 13, 2010

U.S. import prices were raised during the last year by two forces, higher energy prices and the lower dollar. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated that last month import prices rose 0.9% in April and roughly matched Consensus expectations for a 0.8% increase. Excluding petroleum, import prices gained 0.3% after easier increases during the prior two months. During the last twelve months, the gain in energy prices remained strong at 58.7% and non-oil import price gains reached a new high of 3.3%.

Petroleum prices rose 3.3% last month, the strongest gain since January. Through April, prices rose 9.3% after last year's 78.6% increase from December to December. That strength faded in May. So far this month, Brent crude oil prices averaged close to $80 per barrel versus $85 last month.

For non-oil imports, prices also have picked up with the lower dollar as well as the firmer economy. Prices rose 0.3% in April following little change during the prior two months. As a result, prices rose at a 2.5% rate since December. That's down from the 6.8% peak reached in January but up from the 4.1% decline last year. (During the last ten years, there has been a negative 81% correlation between the nominal trade-weighted exchange value of the US dollar vs. major currencies and the y/y change in non-oil import prices.)

Despite the macro-forces behind strength in non-oil import prices, the detail showed very limited gains. Stronger food & beverage prices have provided the lift this year with an 11.7% (AR) gain since December. That compares to a 2.8% decline during 2009. Prices for nonauto consumer goods have been under control. The unchanged reading last month capped a 0.6% YTD gain versus a 0.3% decline last year. Apparel prices have been unchanged YTD after a 0.1% decline last year. Furniture prices fell 6.7% YTD after little change last year while appliance prices have strengthened by 4.0% after last year's more modest increase. Imported auto prices fell at a 1.1% rate YTD after a 0.4% uptick last year.Capital goods ticked up 0.1% last month (-1.3% YTD) and excluding computers, prices rose 0.2% (-0.5% YTD) following a 0.7% gain last year.

Total export prices rose 1.2% last month after a 0.7% March increase. The rise reflected a 1.4% jump (9.0% YTD) in non-agricultural export prices and a 0.7% drop in agricultural goods prices (-4.3% YTD).

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

Import/Export Prices (NSA, %) April March February April Y/Y 2009 2008 2007
Import - All Commodities 0.9 0.5 -0.1 11.1 -11.5 11.5 4.2
  Petroleum 3.3 2.7 -0.8 58.7 -35.9 37.7 11.6
  Nonpetroleum 0.3 -0.1 0.1 3.3 -4.1 5.3 2.7
Export - All Commodities 1.2 0.7 -0.3 5.7 -4.6 6.0 4.9
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