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WASHINGTON - Consumer prices jumped by 0.3 percent in January, the largest increase in nine months, The Associated Press reports. However, food prices declined by 0.2 percent, the best showing in six years.
The Labor Department reported Friday that the January increase in its Consumer Price Index, the most closely watched inflation barometer, followed more moderate increases of 0.1 percent in both November and December.
The rise in consumer prices was the largest increase since last April, when prices rose by 0.4 percent.
The big jump last month was driven by a 4 percent surge in energy prices, which have been pushed higher in recent weeks by worries that a possible U.S. war in Iraq would result in a disruption in global energy supplies.
Even with January's 0.3 percent increase, inflation at the consumer level was much more moderate last month than the performance at the wholesale level, where prices shot up by 1.6 percent, the biggest gain in 13 years.
Many economists are looking for prices this year to rise by around 2.5 percent, little changed from last year's 2.4 percent gain, according to the AP.
For January, the 4 percent increase in energy costs was the biggest one-month increase since a similar 4 percent rise last April. Gasoline pump prices were up 6.6 percent, their fastest increase since a 9 percent rise last April.
Food prices, a big component in Americans' monthly purchases, actually declined by 0.2 percent in January, the best showing in six years, reflecting big declines in the cost of poultry, vegetables and fruit prices.