Wholesale prices rise at slowest pace in 10 months

June 14, 2011 - 11:14 AM
Wholesale Prices

A shopper gets in the check-out line at Costco in Mountain View, Calif., Monday, June 13, 2011. Wholesale prices rose at the slowest pace in 10 months in May as food costs fell and gas prices rose by the smallest amount in eight months. The figures suggest consumers could see some relief from rising prices soon. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Wholesale prices rose at the slowest pace in 10 months in May, as food costs fell and gas prices rose by the smallest amount in eight months. The figures suggest U.S. consumers could see some relief from rising prices soon.

The Producer Price Index, which measures price changes before they reach the consumer, increased 0.2 percent in May, the Labor Department said Tuesday. That's down sharply from a 0.8 percent rise in April and a 0.7 percent increase in March.

Over the past 12 months, the index has risen 7.3 percent. That's the largest such increase since the 12-month period that ended in September 2008.

Excluding volatile food and energy, the so-called "core" index also increased 0.2 percent. The gain was driven by higher prices for plastics, clothing and new cars. The core index has risen 2.1 percent in the past year.

Rapid increases in food and energy prices have driven up inflation since last fall. That has slowed the economy as consumers have had to spend more on those items and less on other goods.

Retail sales fell for the first time in nearly a year last month as consumers bought fewer cars, according to a separate report Tuesday from the Commerce Department. Auto sales dropped 2.9 percent last month, pulling down overall retail sales 0.2 percent. That was the first drop after 10 straight increases.

Supply disruptions stemming from Japan's March 11 earthquake have reduced the number of cars on dealer lots, and dealers are using fewer sales incentives. That pushed up car prices 0.5 percent in May, the wholesale price report said.

Wholesale food costs dropped 1.4 percent in May, the steepest drop in almost a year. Fruit and vegetable prices led the declines. Tomatoes plummeted 47.2 percent, the most since last June, while spinach prices dropped 48.4 percent and watermelons fell 73.7 percent, the most on record.

Gas prices, meanwhile, increased 2.7 percent in May, but that was the smallest rise since last September.

Gas prices have fallen further since last month, after nearly reaching $4 a gallon ($1.05 a liter) in late April. The nationwide average price dipped to just under $3.70 per gallon Tuesday, according to AAA. Still, that's up $1 from a year earlier.

Oil prices, meanwhile, fell to $97 a barrel Tuesday due to concerns that a slowing global economy will lower demand. A drop in Greece's credit rating has intensified concerns about a weakening of Europe's economy. And job creation fell sharply in the U.S. last month, the latest in a string of negative economic data.