US wholesale prices rose in January, led by gasoline

Josh Boak, AP Economics Writer

FILE - In this Friday, April 15, 2016, file photo, fresh eggs are packaged for sale at the Quill's End Farm, a small family run operation in Penobscot, Maine. On Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017, the Labor Department releases is producer price index for January, which measures price changes before they reach consumers. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Higher costs for gasoline costs helped fuel a rise in U.S. wholesale prices in January, but overall inflation still appears to be in check.

Producer price index, which measures price changes before they reach consumers, increased 0.6 percent between January and December, the Labor Department said Tuesday. The index rose 1.6 percent over the past year, a relatively low level of inflation that suggests few costs are likely to be passed along to consumers.

Rising energy costs have recently become a prime source of inflation, reversing a trend in recent years in which falling oil prices were suppressing inflation. Wholesale prices for gasoline jumped 12.9 percent over the past month and 32.3 percent over the past year.

Wholesale food costs were unchanged in January. Higher prices for pork, eggs and milk were offset by lower costs for vegetables, fresh fruits and beef, among other items.

Excluding energy, food and services for wholesaling and retailing, producer prices increased just 0.2 percent in January.

The Federal Reserve has begun to slowly raise interest rates with two increases since the end of 2015. Fed Chair Janet Yellen is carefully watching inflation to consider the prospect of additional rate increases. When prices rise too sharply, it's a sign that money is flowing too easily into the economy and that the Fed would likely raise rates to tamp down on borrowing. The Fed targets inflation at 2 percent a year, enough to keep prices relatively stable while encouraging economic activity.