WASHINGTON — The biggest dip in energy costs in nearly a year partially offset higher food and auto prices in September as wholesale prices rose a moderate 0.3%, the government reported today.
The increase in the Labor Department's producer price index left wholesale inflation for the first nine months of 1987 an annual rate of 3.6%.
The September rise in prices, one stop short of the retail level, followed a month in which prices remained level. Wholesale prices had risen 0.2% in July.
Analysts generally said the report buttressed contentions that inflation remains relatively tame, despite apprehension in financial markets which has pushed up interest rates in recent days.
Still, if September's swings in energy and food prices are discounted, the index for all other goods rose a fairly sharp 0.6%.
Energy Costs Down 3.7%
"The report is not quite as good as it appears on the surface," said Robert Ortner, undersecretary of commerce for economic affairs. "The moderate gain was achieved with a drop in oil prices."
Energy costs, up in seven of the eight previous months, dropped 3.7% in September, paced by a 6.4% tumble in gasoline prices and an 11.4% fall for home heating oil.
It was the biggest decline in energy prices since an identical 3.7% drop in October, 1986.
Food prices, meanwhile, moved up 1.1%, all but erasing a 1.3% decline in August. Fruits, vegetables, pork, beef and eggs were all up. Fish and poultry prices fell.
The increase in wholesale prices was in the range considered modest by analysts and held few surprises.
"It was very much in line with expectations," said David Jones, senior economist for Aubrey G. Lanston & Co. in New York. "What we had was offsetting moves in the two most volatile commodities. Food was up and energy was down."
Passenger car prices were up a hefty 3.6% in September, after a 1.8% decline in August. The increase reflected smaller incentives offered by manufacturers to dealers in September for new-year models.
The September wholesale inflation rate alone was equivalent to an annual, compounded rate of inflation of 3.7%.