Prices on U.S. goods and services rose slightly in April, the first increase since January and a possible sign that inflation is firming.
The Producer Price Index for final demand increased a seasonally adjusted 0.2% last month, the Labor Department said Friday. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had expected a 0.3% increase.
The increase follows declines of 0.1% in March and 0.2% in February. On an unadjusted basis, the final demand index was unchanged for the 12 months ended in April.
Excluding the volatile food and energy categories, producer prices ticked up 0.1% last month and 0.9% from a year ago. Prices for services edged up 0.1% after slipping 0.2 percent in March.
The oil price rout that started in late 2014 has helped keep inflation down but prices have moved higher in recent months. Inflation has undershot the Federal Reserve’s 2% annual target for roughly four years.
“PPI measures continue to recover from the deflationary shock of sharply lower commodity prices, although it will take several months for last year’s declines to drop out of the annual calculation,” Michael Shaoul, CEO of Marketfield Asset Management, said in a note.
Wholesale gas prices jumped 5.5% in April, while food costs slipped 0.3%. The cost of some types of steel jumped 22.1%, while pharmaceutical prices rose 1%.
The Fed said last month it expected inflation to remain low in the near term, but to rise to 2% over the medium term “as the transitory effects of declines in energy and import prices dissipate and the labor market strengthens further.”
“Policy makers are watching for signs of firming prices as they debate the timing of the central bank’s next increase in short-term interest rates,” the WSJ said.
The Fed’s preferred inflation gauge, the Commerce Department’s personal-consumption expenditures price index, rose 0.8% in March from a year earlier; core prices climbed 1.6%.