REUTERS

(REUTERS)

Wholesale-Level Inflation Unchanged in August

Politics Reuters

U.S. producer prices were flat in August, pointing to benign inflation pressures that could weigh on the Federal Reserve's decision whether to hike interest rates next week.

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The unchanged reading in the producer price index last month followed a 0.2 percent gain in July, the Labor Department said on Friday. The drag on producer prices from lower crude oil prices and a strong dollar was offset by an increase in profit margins for apparel, footwear and accessories retailing.

In the 12 months through August, the PPI fell 0.8 percent after a similar decline in July. It was the seventh straight 12-month decrease in the index.

Tame inflation despite a rapidly tightening labor market poses a dilemma for Fed officials who are contemplating raising rates for the first time in nearly a decade.

The U.S. central bank's policy-setting committee meets on Sept. 16-17. The likelihood of a lift-off in the Fed's benchmark overnight interest rate has been diminished by recent financial market volatility, which was sparked by concerns over China's economy.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the PPI dipping 0.1 percent last month and falling 0.9 percent from a year ago.

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Producer inflation is likely to remain muted in the near term after a report on Thursday showed import prices fell 1.8 percent in August, the largest drop since January.

Wholesale food prices rose 0.3 percent in August as the impact of an avian flu outbreak early this year lingers. Food prices slipped 0.1 percent in July. Wholesale chicken egg prices rose 23.2 percent after falling 24.2 percent in July.

The volatile trade services component, which mostly reflects profit margins at retailers and wholesalers, shot up 0.9 percent in August after rising 0.4 percent in the prior month. Almost half of the increase in August was attributed to a 7.0 percent surge in margins for apparel, footwear and accessories retailing.

A key measure of underlying producer price pressures that excludes food, energy and trade services edged up 0.1 percent in August after rising 0.2 percent in July.

The dollar's 17.5 percent rise against the currencies of the United States' main trading partners since June 2014 is restraining gains in the so-called core PPI.

Core PPI was up 0.7 percent in the 12 months through August. (Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao)