Energy prices drive up consumer costs here

SHARE Energy prices drive up consumer costs here

Higher prices for natural gas and gasoline pushed up consumer prices in the Chicago area in March.

Consumer prices rose 1.1 percent last month after a 0.5 percent increase in February. Energy prices soared 11.7 percent and food prices rose 0.3 percent in March, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Tuesday. Natural gas prices rose 30.9 percent and gasoline prices rose 9.4 percent last month.

Prices rose just 0.1 percent in the Chicago area when you strip out the energy and food prices.

The area’s Consumer Price Index is up 1.9 percent over the past 12 months. Energy prices, chiefly natural gas prices, are up 7.9 percent and food prices are up 1.4 percent from March 2013.

“Prices are creeping higher,” said Jennifer Lee, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets, “but with wage growth still modest and lots of retail competition, inflation should remain in check for now.”

Nationally, consumer prices rose 0.2 percent in March, after scant 0.1 percent increases in the previous two months. Prices have risen just 1.5 percent year over year. That remains well below the Federal Reserve’s 2 percent target for inflation.

Excluding the volatile food and energy categories, core prices increased 0.2 percent in March and 1.7 percent in the past year.

Prices at the gas pump tumbled 1.7 percent in March, lowering costs for the overall energy category.

But food prices jumped 0.4 percent.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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