US import prices rise more than expected in February

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. import prices rose more than expected in February as the largest increase in the cost of capital goods since 2008 offset a drop in petroleum prices, bolstering views that inflation will pick up this year.

The Labor Department said on Thursday that import prices increased 0.4 percent last month after a downwardly revised 0.8 percent surge in January. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast import prices climbing 0.2 percent in February after a previously reported 1.0 percent jump in January.

In the 12 months through February, import prices increased 3.5 percent after rising 3.4 percent in the 12 months through January.

Data this week showed steady gains in consumer and producer prices in January. Economists expect inflation will accelerate this year, driven by a tightening labor market, weaker dollar and fiscal stimulus. Inflation has undershot the Federal Reserve's 2 percent target since mid-2012.

Last month, prices for imported capital goods jumped 0.6 percent. That was the biggest increase since April 2008 and followed an unchanged reading in January.

Prices of imported consumer goods excluding automobiles rose 0.5 percent, the largest gain since January 2014, after edging up 0.1 percent in the prior month. These price increases likely reflected the dollar's depreciation against the currencies of the United States' main trading partners.

These higher prices will eventually filter through to core producer and consumer inflation. Imported petroleum prices fell 0.5 percent, the first drop in seven months, after rising 3.0 percent in January. Import prices excluding petroleum surged 0.5 percent after a similar gain in January.

The price of goods imported from China rose 0.2 percent. Prices for imports from China increased 0.3 percent in the 12 months through February, the biggest advance since June 2014.

The report also showed export prices gained 0.2 percent in February after rising 0.8 percent in January. Export prices increased 3.3 percent on a year-on-year basis after rising 3.4 percent in January.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani Editing by Paul Simao