Surging gasoline prices raised the nation's overall wholesale prices last month by 0.4 percent, less than economists expected but generally in line with the U.S. central bank's generally benign inflation forecast, the Commerce Department said Thursday.

Economists surveyed by Reuters expected a 0.5 percent month-over-month rise in producer prices compared with a 0.1 percent rise in January. Excluding volatile food and energy items, producer prices are expected to rise 0.2 percent versus with a 0.4 percent increase in January. 

In January wholesale prices were virtually unchanged as a big drop in prices of electricity, natural gas and home heating oil offset rising wholesale gasoline prices.

The wholesale price of energy rose 1.3 percent last month, led by a 4.3 percent jump in the wholesale price of gasoline. That gain was offset somewhat by wholesale price inflation for non-food and non-energy products climbing a mere 0.2 percent.

Wholesale prices for consumer food slipped 0.1 percent, led by a 2.8-percent drop in prices for dairy products.

On Tuesday, the central bank's Federal Open Market Committee said that although prices of crude oil and gasoline have increased lately, the Fed expected the spike will only push up inflation temporarily.

The Fed said again that inflation will run at or below the rate it judges most consistent with part of its dual mandate -- which is 2 percent. 

Longer-term inflation expectations have remained stable, the FOMC statement said.