Increasing Fuel Costs Key to Import Prices’ Rise

Led by higher fuel prices, the price index for U.S. imports and exports in April increased.

Consecutive 0.3% import index increases for U.S. imports in March and April marked the first monthly advances since June 2015. These are the largest monthly increases since May 2015, the Labor Department said in latest release. Over the past year, import prices dropped 5.7%, the smallest annual decline since December 2014. In April, prices for fuel imports grew 3.3%, following a 7.6% rise in March. Labor attributed the April increases to a 4.1% rise in petroleum prices, offsetting the 10.5% plunge in natural gas prices. Despite the recent increases, import fuel prices have dropped 36.4% over the past year. Higher prices for nonfuel industrial supplies and materials, foods, feeds and beverages and automobiles offset declining consumer and capital goods prices, Labor said.

Also of note, import prices from China dropped 0.1% in April—Chinese imports have not seen price increases since December 2014, Labor said. In contrast, import prices from Mexico, Canada and the European Union all rose in April, with Canadian import prices increasing the most at 1.4%.

“Looking ahead, we expect import price inflation to climb higher in the coming months on anticipation of further oil price stabilization and more gradual appreciation of the U.S. dollar,” said Sam Bullard, senior economist with Wells Fargo.

Export prices grew in April by 0.5%, the first monthly advance in the index in a year, according to Labor. Still, year-over-year, the export price index declined 5%. Prices for soy beans led agricultural exports, showing a 4.4% rise, with overall agricultural export prices increasing 0.5% in April. Over the past year, agricultural export prices were still down, dropping 9.7%.

Nonagricultural export prices grew by 0.5% in April on the back of a 0.3% rise in March, driven by industrial supplies and materials and capital goods increases, Labor said. Year-over-year, nonagricultural export prices were still down 4.6%.

- Nicholas Stern, NACM editorial associate

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