The price of U.S. imports fell 0.5 percent in April, a decrease driven by lower declining natural gas prices, while the price of U.S. exports rose 0.4 percent, according to a Department of Labor report Thursday.
The decline in the cost of imports in April was the first such decrease since a 0.4 percent drop in prices in October 2011, and the largest one-month decline in prices since June 2011. The overall 0.5 percent drop in import prices was largely attributable to a 2.1 percent drop in fuel import prices. The decrease in fuel import prices came after a 4.4 percent spike in March.
Inflation is not an immediate concern. The Fed is betting that energy prices will have only a temporary impact, and so far the bet is paying off. Oil prices have fallen sharply this month, taking the edge off headline inflation, Ryan Sweet, senior economist at Moody's Analytics Inc. told Bloomberg Businessweek before the report.
Petroleum import prices fell 1.8 percent, while the price of importing natural gas declined 14.1 percent. Fuel import prices overall have fallen in the past year as the cost of importing natural gas has dropped 45.3 percent, a decline which has more than offset a 0.1 percent increase in the cost of importing petroleum. The drop in fuel import prices was the first such year-over-year reduction since October 2009.
Excluding fuel, the price of all other imports rose 0.1 percent in April, building upon a 0.5 percent rise the previous month. The rise in the cost of non-fuel imports resulted from higher prices for industrial supplies and material, automotive vehicles, consumer goods and food and beverages. The cost of imported non-fuel goods has risen 1.3 percent over the past year.
The cost of importing industrial supplies and materials rose 0.3 percent in April, following a 1.6 percent rise in March. Although the price of unfinished metals dropped 2.3 percent, it was offset by a 13.6 percent rise in the cost of agricultural products and a 1.5 percent advance in the cost of chemicals.
The expenses of importing finished goods and foods, feeds and beverages both ticked up slightly in April. The expense of imported air passenger service rose 0.7 percent in April, reaching 10.3 percent for the year. Air freight rates rose 2.3 percent in April, a 1.5 percent gain for the year.
The price of imports from China fell 0.3 percent in April, the first such decrease since June 2010, but it wasn't enough to offset the overall 2 percent increase in cost of Chinese imports. The cost of imports from Canada, the European Union, Mexico and Japan all decreased as well.
Export prices rose a modest 0.4 percent in April, on modest gains for nonagricultural industrial supplies and materials and air passenger fares. The export price of industrial supplies rose 0.4 percent in April, driven by a 1.5 percent increase in fuel prices and a smaller gain in the cost of chemicals. Air passenger fares rose 1.2 percent in April, buoyed by a 9.5 percent rise in the cost of European fares. Export passenger fares have risen 6.7 percent over the last year. Air freight prices have risen 5.1 percent during the same time.