Prices of goods imported into the U.S. rose more than forecast in March, driven by higher prices in fuel and non-fuel sectors, a government report showed Wednesday.
Overall import prices were up 1.3 percent, the Labor Department said, the largest monthly rise since April 2011 and followed a revised 0.1 percent drop in February that was previously reported as a 0.4 percent increase. A 3.8 percent rise in import fuel prices led the March increase in overall import prices.
Economists polled by Thomson Reuters had called for prices to rise 0.8 percent last month.
In March, a 4.3 percent increase in petroleum prices, the largest component of imported fuels more than offset a 14.2 percent drop in natural gas prices.
Prices for import fuel rose 7.4 percent for the year ended in March, driven by a 9.6 percent advance in petroleum prices. In contrast, natural gas prices fell 37.8 percent over the past 12 months.
The Federal Reserve last month warned that increasing oil and gasoline costs could temporarily push up inflation. But Fed officials said they expect price increases to return to their long-term annual target of 2.0 percent.
Stripping out petroleum, import prices advanced 0.3 percent after falling 0.1 percent in February.
Compared with a year earlier, overall import prices increased 3.4 percent, the smallest 12-month advance for the index since a similar 3.4 percent rise between November 2008 and November 2009.
Import prices from China were unchanged in March, but were up 2.7 percent from a year ago. Prices of goods imported from the European Union rose 0.9 percent in March after several months of declines and are 2.6 percent higher than a year earlier.
U.S. export prices also increased in March, rising 0.8 percent, the largest gain in almost a year and higher than the 0.4 percent projected by economists.
Stock futures pointed to a higher opening Wednesday after five days of losses for the major indices. The S&P 500 futures rose 0.67 percent and the Dow Jones Industrial Average futures gained 0.59 percent.