WASHINGTON – The prices companies receive for their goods and services jumped in March led by gains for food, clothing, jewelry and chemicals.
The producer price index, which measures price changes before they reach the consumer, rose 0.5 percent in March, the Labor Department said Friday.
Overall inflation remains relatively tame. Producer prices increased 1.4 percent during the past 12 months.
Wholesale food prices rose last month, led by a 30.4 percent leap in the costs of hogs and 12.4 percent increase in poultry. Those increases were partly offset by a 2.4 percent decline in gasoline prices and a 0.7 percent drop for electric power. Excluding the volatile categories of food, energy and retailer and wholesaler profit margins, core prices ticked up 0.3 percent.
Some of the higher prices were attributed to a distortion caused by the unusually bad weather in previous months, said Paul Dales, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics. Snowstorms kept many shoppers at home and hurt retail sales. The margins of clothing wholesalers and retailers bounced back in March, rising by 3.3 percent to push up overall producer prices.
Inflation has been near historic lows during the past two years. The producer price index rose just 1.2 percent in 2013 after a 1.4 percent increase in 2012. Both figures are far below the Fed’s preferred target of 2 percent.
Stronger growth usually leads to higher levels of inflation. But the economy has struggled to accelerate during the 4 1/2 -year recovery from the last recession. Wage growth has been close to flat, while unemployment remains at historically high levels. This limits consumer spending and limits the ability of businesses to raise prices.