US wholesale prices dip in March but annual gain strongest in 5 years

The Producer Price Index, which measures input costs from the seller's perspective, dropped 0.1 percent for the month of March, largely driven by a decline in services

US wholesale inflation fell slightly in March but the annual measure hit its fastest pace in five years, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

While analysts had been expecting a monthly slowdown, the longer-term results reflected persistent upward pressures in the cost of goods, which can filter through to prices consumers pay.

The Producer Price Index, which measures input costs from the seller's perspective, dropped 0.1 percent for the month, largely driven by a decline in services, according to the report.

Excluding the more volatile food, energy and trade categories, the index went in the other direction, rising 0.1 percent, the tenth consecutive monthly gain.

Analysts had expected a smaller monthly drop, keeping the price index essentially unchanged from the month before.

Blerina Uruci of Barclays described the monthly slowdown as a pause in otherwise strong price growth.

"We view this as a breather in this measure after accelerating significantly since the middle of 2016," she wrote in a research note.

"We continue to expect inflation pressures to remain solid in the economy, as labor markets continue to tighten and the dollar and commodity prices are broadly stable."

On a yearly basis, however, PPI rose 2.3 percent, the largest 12-month gain since March 2012, albeit only a tenth higher than the annual rate in February.

Excluding food, energy and trade, core PPI rose 1.7 percent compared to a year earlier, down a tenth of a point from the month before.

But goods prices increased four percent year-over-year, the biggest increase since January 2012.

The annual PPI increase has set consecutive records, and the US central bank has raised its benchmark interest rates twice since December to get out in front of consumer inflation before it accelerates.

Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said rising prices could begin to threaten the Federal Reserve's two percent target for consumer price inflation.

"So far, the upturn in PPI goods prices has not hit" the key consumer price measures, "but it will, and it represents the biggest single near-term threat to the Fed's inflation target," he said in a research note.