Import Prices in U.S. Dropped in March, Led by Decline in Fuels

The cost of goods imported into the U.S. fell in March as fuel prices retreated.

The 0.5 percent drop in the import-price index followed a 0.6 percent gain the prior month that was smaller than first estimated, the Labor Department reported today in Washington. The decline matched the median forecast of 41 economists in a Bloomberg survey. Prices dropped 2.7 percent over the past 12 months, the biggest year-to-year fall since July.

Europe and other global markets remain weak, limiting demand for commodities including oil and keeping overall inflation in check. American companies also have little ability to raise prices as they compete with overseas manufacturers to attract customers.

Economists’ estimates for import prices in the Bloomberg survey ranged from a drop of 1.8 percent to a 0.9 percent gain.

Applications for unemployment benefits in the U.S. plunged more than forecast last week unwinding a surge caused by the Easter holiday and spring break at schools, another Labor Department report showed today.

Jobless claims decreased by 42,000 to 346,000 in the week ended April 6, from a revised 388,000, Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. The median forecast of 49 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a drop to 360,000. A Labor Department official said no states were estimated and there was nothing unusual in the data.

Petroleum Costs

The cost of imported petroleum decreased 1.9 percent in March from the prior month, and was down 10.4 percent over the past 12 months.

Excluding fuels, import prices fell 0.2 percent in March, and were down 0.5 percent from March 2012. That was the largest 12-month drop since November 2009.

The value of imported automobiles fell 0.3 percent from the prior month, the most since December 2011.

The cost of goods from China declined 0.2 percent in March, and was down 1.1 percent over the past 12 months. It was the largest year-to-year drop since February 2010. Goods from Japan fell 0.2 percent over the past 12 months, the most since November 2007.

U.S. export prices decreased 0.4 percent after advancing 0.7 percent the previous month, today’s figures showed. Prices of farm exports fell 1.8 percent, while those of non-farm goods were down 0.2 percent.

The import-price index is the first of three monthly price gauges from the Labor Department. Producer prices are due tomorrow, and the consumer-price index on April 16.

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