Inflation stays in check for LI and region

U.S. retail sales rose in July by the largest amount in five months, buoyed by more spending on back-to-school items, autos, furniture and clothing. (Aug. 14)

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Inflation wasn't a problem last month despite the worries of some consumers, according to a new report.

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics said Wednesday its consumer price index climbed 1.1 percent in July from a year earlier in the 31-county region that includes Long Island. The last time prices rose so little was October 2009, when they were unchanged from 2008.

The index increased 1.6 percent in June, year over year.

Month over month, prices dropped 0.2 percent in July compared with June. It was the second consecutive decline of 2012.

Martin Kohli, chief regional economist at the statistics bureau, said higher food prices were offset by declines in some energy commodities, notably gasoline. However, pump prices have surged in recent weeks.

Gasoline cost 5.2 percent less in July than a year earlier. It also was down between July and June.

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Groceries were more expensive, rising 2 percent last month from a year earlier. Uncooked beef roasts and steaks, apples and fresh vegetables were among the items costing more, Kohli said.

Health care costs increased the most, up 5.5 percent from July 2011, followed by clothes, which were up 3.6 percent.

At the Sunrise mall in Massapequa, some shoppers said they hadn't seen a letup in prices. "Everything seems to keep going up: milk, bread, gas, movie tickets, vacations -- you name it," said Juan Mendes, 57, a plumber from Copiague. "My paycheck gets stretched more and more each year."

Excluding food and energy, the metropolitan area's price index edged up 1.8 percent in the past year.

Nationally, the annual inflation rate was 1.4 percent in July, the smallest year-over-year change since November 2010. Excluding food and energy, the rate was 2.1 percent.

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"Inflation is probably close to its low point for the year," said Kevin Logan, chief economist at HSBC Bank. "In the coming months, drought-related food-price increases along with recent oil-price increases will feed through to the consumer level, lifting the overall rate of inflation back closer to 2 percent by the end of this year."

Separately, the state Taxation and Finance Department released data for July for shopping activity on Long Island. July sales-tax receipts climbed 1.5 percent in Nassau County from a year earlier and were down 1.6 percent in Suffolk County.

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