Lower gasoline prices in May helped offset higher costs in...

Lower gasoline prices in May helped offset higher costs in housing and some foods, said the federal Labor Department. The 4.5 percent year-over-year drop in gas prices was the first since October ’09. (June 14, 2012) Credit: AP

Prices moderated in the metropolitan area during May, with the smallest year-over-year increase in 16 months.

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Thursday its consumer price index edged up 1.8 percent in May compared with a year ago in the 31-county region that includes Long Island. The last time prices rose so little was 1.5 percent in January 2011.

The index climbed 2.4 percent in April, year over year.

Inflation has slowed since the beginning of 2012, according to Deborah A. Brown, regional commissioner for the federal Department of Labor, which oversees the statistics bureau.

She said prices rose the most in May for medical care, up 5.5 percent year over year; groceries were up 4.5 percent; rent was up 2.6 percent.

Month over month, the index was up 0.1 percent in May from April. Brown said lower gasoline prices helped to offset the higher cost of housing and foods such as bread, soups, fish, frozen food, carbonated drinks and ice cream.

Pump prices fell 2.8 percent, month over month, and were down 4.5 percent from May 2011. This year-over-year reduction was the first since October 2009.

Along the boardwalk in Long Beach Thursday, some people said they were relieved to see gas prices retreating.

"We're finally catching a break, and that means I have money to spend on other things," said William Donnelly, a retired teacher from Rockville Centre. "If gas prices stay like this, maybe I can make a dent in all the projects I have to do around the house."

Excluding food and energy, the metropolitan area's price index edged up 2.3 percent in the past year, roughly the rate since August 2011.

Nationally, the annual inflation rate was 1.7 percent in May. Excluding food and energy, the rate was unchanged from April and March, when it was 2.3 percent.

"Lower energy and other commodity prices have reduced the costs for both the production and transportation of goods," said Ryan Wang, an economist with HSBC Securities USA. "This should keep overall . . . inflation close to the [Federal Reserve's] long-run goal of 2 percent."

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