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Import Prices in U.S. Decreased in April as Fuel Costs Ebbed

The cost of goods imported into the U.S. dropped in April, propelled by retreating fuel costs.

The 0.5 percent decline in the import-price index followed a 0.2 percent drop the prior month, according to Labor Department figures released today in Washington. The decrease matched the median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of economists. Such prices were down 2.6 percent in the past 12 months.

Tepid economic growth around the globe has reduced demand for commodities, including oil, putting downward pressure on costs. With inflation under control, monetary officials from the Federal Reserve to the European Central Bank have room to do more to stoke expansion without creating jumps in prices.

Estimates for the change in import prices ranged from a drop of 1 percent to a 0.3 percent gain, according to the 43 economists surveyed.

The cost of imported petroleum fell 1.9 percent in April from the prior month.

Excluding fuels, import prices declined 0.2 last month from March, and were down 0.7 percent from April 2012. That was the biggest 12-month decrease since the year ended November 2009.

The value of imported automobiles fell 0.3 percent from the prior month, the most since December 2011. The price of imported capital goods dropped 0.2 percent, the most in more than a year.

Goods from China were 0.1 percent less expensive. Imports from Japan declined 0.6 percent, the biggest drop since September 2008. Latin American goods fell 1.5 percent and those from the European Union decreased 0.1 percent. The price of Canadian imports retreated 0.6 percent, and goods from Mexico were 0.9 percent less expensive.

The price of U.S. exports dropped 0.7 percent after falling 0.5 percent the previous month, today’s figures showed. Prices of agricultural exports declined 2.2 percent, while those of non-farm goods were down 0.5 percent.

The import-price index is the first of three monthly price gauges from the Labor Department. A report on producer prices is due tomorrow, and a report on consumer prices is due May 16.

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