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Consumer Prices Inch Higher

The consumer price index (CPI) rose 0.2% in February, while the core index rose 0.3%. The February figures follow gains of 0.2% for both the overall index and core in January. The core index, which excludes food and energy, was a bit higher than expected.

Housing prices were up 0.3%, apparel prices expanded 0.5%, and medical care costs grew 0.3%. However, transportation prices were down 0.2%, with gas prices slipping 0.4%. The core figure was boosted by a healthy 3.8% jump in tobacco prices.

The increase in the total index during the month leaves it growing at a 1.1% pace when compared with the same month last year. As for the core index, it grew 2.6% on the same basis, which leaves it stubbornly locked in the narrow 2.5%-2.8% range seen in every month since May of 2000. At 2.6%, the rate revealed little tendency to drop through 2001, or to respond to the drop in energy prices that usually has some depressing effect on the non-energy components. Now that energy prices are rebounding and an expansion has started, the next breakout from this range may well be to the upside despite the usual cyclical benefits of a recession. However, price pressures remain non-threatening. From Standard & Poor's Global Markets

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