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Ecuador February Consumer Prices Rose Most Since September

March 6 (Bloomberg) -- Consumer prices in Ecuador, which uses the U.S. dollar as its official currency, rose at their fastest pace in five months in February, led by increases in food and health costs, the statistics agency reported.

Prices climbed 0.78 percent last month and increased 5.53 percent from February 2011, the National Statistics and Census Institute said today in a report on its website. Producer prices fell 0.57 percent in February and increased 1.94 percent from a year earlier, according to the report.

Food prices have risen this year as record rainfall in coastal areas damaged crops and disrupted supplies, according to today’s report and data from the country’s National Meteorology and Hydrology Institute. Bad weather, minimum wage increases and higher prices for imported commodities are pressuring costs, according to Deloitte & Touche LLP.

“Inflation this year is expected to rise,” the company’s Quito office said today in a report published before the data’s release. “It’s probable that there exists a scarcity of some products because of the effects of the winter, which could increase their costs.”

Above-average rainfall is expected to continue in coastal areas and the Andean highlands until the end of May, the weather agency said in a Feb. 29 report.

Prices rose the most last month in the coastal city of Esmeraldas, jumping 1.48 percent. Inflation was 0.92 percent in the nation’s largest city, Guayaquil, the agency said.

Ecuador, the smallest member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, subsidizes fuel costs and the domestic use of natural gas.

Annual inflation is forecast to average 5.14 percent this year compared with 4.7 percent in 2011, while the economy may expand 5.35 percent, according to the Finance Ministry’s 2012 budget.

To contact the reporter on this story: Nathan Gill in New York at ngill4@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Joshua Goodman at jgoodman19@bloomberg.net.

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