A surge in petroleum prices pushed overall U.S. import prices up 0.8 percent in August, while export prices increased by 0.4 percent for the second consecutive month.
The Labor Department said Thursday that petroleum prices grew by 2.3 percent in August, and nonpetroleum prices also moved higher, by 0.5 percent. Petroleum prices are up 25.9 percent over the past five months.
Economists had been expecting a small decline in import prices. The 0.8 increase compares with the 1.0 percent rise in July.The Labor Department said the August increase in nonpetroleum prices was led by a 1.8 percent rise in the price index for nonpetroleum industrial supplies and materials, driven by higher natural gas and unfinished metals prices, which more than offset declining prices for chemicals and building materials.
A 2.5 percent advance in foods, feeds, and beverages prices in August also contributed to the rise in nonpetroleum prices. The increase was the largest one-month jump in the index since March 2005, and prices for foods, feeds, and beverages rose 6.0 percent over the past year.
Meanwhile, the rise in export prices came on higher prices for both agricultural exports and nonagricultural exports. Prices for agricultural exports advanced for the fourth consecutive month, rising 1.0 percent in August. Higher prices for cotton, corn, and other agricultural foods more than offset lower wheat and soybean prices.
The price indexes for import air freight and export air freight moved in opposite directions in August, declining 0.7 percent in the case of import air freight prices while prices for export air freight increased 0.9 percent. The August movement for both indexes followed declines in July, the Labor Department said.
Separately, the Commerce Department said business inventories rose by 0.6 percent, to a seasonally adjusted $1.347 trillion. The increase comes on the heels of a 0.9 percent gain in June. Inventories increased by 0.2 percent at furniture sellers and 1.0 percent within the building materials sector.