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Wholesale prices rise, hint at inflation

WASHINGTON - Wholesale prices outside of the volatile food and energy categories rose at the fastest pace in more than two years last month, a sign inflation could be rising as the economy strengthens.

The increase comes after months of rising prices for oil, cotton, corn, wheat and other commodities. Some economists said yesterday's report indicates that companies are starting to pass on those costs to retailers. That's likely to increase prices for consumers later this year.

"This is a warning sign that we are going to see an acceleration of consumer price inflation" over the next six months, said Carl Riccadonna, an economist at Deutsche Bank.

The Producer Price Index, which measures price changes before they reach the consumer, increased 0.8 percent last month, the Labor Department said Wednesday. A 6.9 percent jump in gas prices pushed the index up. Food prices rose only 0.3 percent, less than many economists forecast.

The core index, which strips out food and energy costs, rose 0.5 percent - the largest monthly gain since October 2008. Economists pay more attention to core prices because they offer a better glimpse of broader inflationary trends.

About 40 percent of the rise in the core index stemmed from higher pharmaceutical prices, which jumped 1.4 percent. That's the largest increase for that category in nearly three years. Prices for other goods also rose sharply, including tires, plastics, alcoholic beverages and jewelry.

In the 12 months ended in January, wholesale prices have risen 3.6 percent, down from a 4 percent pace in December. The core index is up 1.6 percent over the past 12 months, compared to a 1.3 percent pace in December.

The government on Thursday releases the January report on consumer prices. Inflation at the consumer level was tame throughout 2010, but prices are expected to tick up this year. - AP

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