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Food and energy costs push consumer prices higher in March

April 14, 2012|By Jeffry Bartash
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WASHINGTON — The cost of living rose again in March even as the price of gasoline leveled off, the U.S. government reported Friday.

The consumer price index climbed 0.3% last month as the cost of most goods and services rose, the Labor Department said. The increase outstripped the rise in wages.

Economists surveyed by MarketWatch expected a 0.2% increase in the cost of living.

Prices rose for a wide variety of goods. Energy costs, for example, climbed 0.9% last month, though that was far smaller than February's 3.2% increase as gas prices eased. A retreat in the price of oil from recent highs should offer a bit of additional relief to consumers, at least temporarily.

Natural-gas prices rose for the first time in five months, but electricity costs dropped.

The cost of food rose 0.2% last month after being unchanged in February. Meat, poultry, fish and eggs posted the biggest increases. Yet fruit and vegetable prices fell, as did the cost of dairy and baked goods.

In the last year, consumer prices have risen an unadjusted 2.7%, but that's down from 2.9% in February.

Excluding food and energy, the so-called core consumer price index climbed 0.2% in March and matched Wall Street's expectations. Prices for shelter — rental units or homes — and used autos spurred the increase.

Prices for used vehicles jumped 1.3% after falling in each of the last six months. The cost of new cars and trucks, medical care, clothing and airfares also rose in March.

Among the few things to fall in price were tobacco and liquor.

Bartash writes for MarketWatch.com/McClatchy.

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