September 13, 2011 / 12:37 PM / in 7 years

August import prices fall 0.4 percent on petroleum

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Import prices fell in August due to lower fuel costs, potentially giving the central bank more room for stimulus measures to boost the economy, data showed on Tuesday.

A drop in prices for petroleum helped push import prices 0.4 percent lower following a 0.3 percent increase in the previous month, the Labor Department said in a report. Prices for food and industrial materials also fell.

Analysts polled by Reuters had expected import prices to fall 0.8 percent in August.

With unemployment stuck near 9 percent and wages stagnant, more costly imports have been a principle form of inflationary pressure in the U.S. economy. Highlighting how much oil prices have risen, petroleum import prices were up 43.5 percent in August from a year earlier.

U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said last week that such pressures would ease due to tamer prices for oil and other commodities. Less inflation pressure gives the Fed more room to try to boost growth, and policymakers are expected to unveil more stimulus measures soon.

“The decline in market energy and commodity prices in recent weeks is likely to lead to a further easing in headline import prices,” said Peter Newland, an analyst at Barclays Capital in New York.

Newland said, however, the report suggested pipeline pressures at the core level continue to build, reflecting the effects of a weaker dollar and inflationary pressures abroad.

Excluding petroleum, import prices rose 0.3 percent, accelerating from a 0.1 percent increase in July.

Bernanke had suggested a rebound in auto production following Japan’s March earthquake disaster — which created bottlenecks in the industry that pushed prices higher — would ease inflation pressures as well.

Prices for imported cars and car parts were unchanged last month, while consumer goods rose 0.3 percent when autos and parts were stripped out.

Export prices rose 0.5 percent in August after falling 0.4 percent in July. Economists had expected export prices to be unchanged last month.

Reporting by Jason Lange, Editing by Andrea Ricci

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