Metro area consumer prices up in November

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A gasoline shortage caused by superstorm Sandy likely contributed to rising consumer prices in the metropolitan area last month.

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics said Friday its consumer price index for the 31-county region that includes Long Island and New York City climbed 2 percent in November from a year ago.

Prices were flat month to month.

Martin Kohli, the bureau's chief regional economist, said it was difficult to determine Sandy's full impact on inflation because not all parts of the region were hit hard by the Oct. 29 storm and gasoline prices are volatile.

Still, he said, "That there could be an effect [of Sandy] on gasoline is plausible."

Pump prices were up 9 percent last month compared with November 2011. Weeks of shortage led to gouging by some service stations, based on charges filed by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

Gas prices over the entire month were 2.5 percent lower than in October.

Irwin Kellner, chief economist at the MarketWatch news service and a former Hofstra University professor, said, "Gasoline prices really shot up . . . There was panic buying after power was lost at the terminals as well as many gas stations."

Grocery prices were 2.8 percent higher last month than in 2011, though the increase was blamed on a drought that cut livestock herds and crops.

The cost of groceries also gained nine-tenths of 1 percent month over month, on higher prices for cereal, milk, snacks, cheese, pasta and fresh fruit.

At Roosevelt Field mall Friday, some shoppers accused retailers of taking advantage of Sandy to hike prices on fuel, batteries, generators and other items in high demand.

"I saw gas selling for $9 a gallon at one station in Farmingdale," said Mary Weiss, 34, of Amityville. "It was disgusting."

Excluding food and energy, the metropolitan area's price index climbed 1.7 percent in the past year.

Nationally, the annual inflation rate was 1.8 percent in November, a decline from the October rate of 2.2 percent.

Kellner said, "The fact that CPI fell nationally is not necessarily a good sign for the U.S. economy, because it shows weak consumer demand. Retailers are being forced to cut prices to move merchandise."

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