October Import Prices Declined 0.5%

Prices for imported goods fell for the fourth straight month in October, highlighting the cheap oil, strong dollar and slow overseas growth that are keeping inflation low. Import prices dropped 0.5% from the prior month, the Labor Department said Tuesday. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had expected a 0.1% decline. Overall import prices are down 10.5% from a year earlier. The year-over-year figure has declined for 15 consecutive months. October's decline was broad-based, with prices for petroleum and natural gas, industrial supplies like paper and metal, food, autos and capital goods all falling. Petroleum import prices are down 48% from a year ago. But a stronger dollar and tepid overseas demand are tamping down prices for other goods. The index for non-fuel imports was down 3.2% over the past year, the biggest decline in more than six years. The non-fuel index hasn't recorded a monthly advance since July 2014. Falling import prices are one reason inflation has remained historically low. Federal Reserve officials have held off on raising interest rates from near zero in large part because of worries about when inflation would reach the central bank's 2% target. It's been below that mark for more than three years. But Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen and other officials expect the drag from cheap commodities and imports will eventually pass. "Inflation is anticipated to remain near its recent low level in the near term but the Committee expects inflation to rise gradually toward 2% over the medium term as the labor market improves further and the transitory effects of declines in energy and import prices dissipate," the central bank's policy committee statement said last month. U.S. export prices fell 0.2% in October from the prior month. Export prices are down 6.7% year-over-year. Unlike many other price gauges measured by the government, import prices are not seasonally adjusted. Write to Jeffrey Sparshott at jeffrey.sparshott@wsj.com and David Harrison at david.harrison@wsj.com.

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