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Import Prices in U.S. Fell 0.9% in November on Cheaper Oil

Dec. 12 (Bloomberg) -- Prices of goods imported into the U.S. dropped in November for the first time in four months on cheaper crude oil and business equipment.

The 0.9 percent decline in the import-price index was more than forecast and followed a revised 0.3 percent increase in October that was smaller than initially estimated, the Labor Department reported today in Washington. The median forecast of 44 economists in a Bloomberg survey called for a 0.5 percent decrease. Prices excluding fuels fell 0.2 percent.

American companies and consumers may find limited price pressures from abroad as a slowing global economy reduces demand for commodities such as oil. Few signs of accelerating inflation give Federal Reserve officials, who wrap up their final policy meeting of the year today, room to add to record monetary stimulus to stoke the expansion.

“Inflation is very far down the list of concerns at this point,” Russell Price, senior economist at Ameriprise Financial Inc. in Detroit, said before the report. “We’re really still focused on worrying about the demand side of the equation.”

Projections in the Bloomberg survey ranged from a drop of 0.9 percent to a gain of 0.3 percent.

Compared with a year earlier, import prices decreased 1.6 percent in November, today’s report showed. They were unchanged in the 12 months ended in October. Import prices were forecast to fall 1 percent from the same month in 2011.

The cost of imported fuel decreased 3 percent in November from the prior month, the most since June. Fuel costs fell 7 percent from a year earlier.

Imported food was 1.3 percent cheaper in November, the biggest decrease since February. Coffee prices slumped and costs of vegetables declined last month.

Auto Imports

Prices for imported automobiles, parts and engines were unchanged from the prior month. Consumer goods excluding vehicles showed a 0.1 percent drop.

Imported capital goods prices fell 0.3 percent, the most since March 2010.

A pickup in the value of the U.S. dollar since mid- September may also help make imported goods less expensive. The Dollar Index, which IntercontinentalExchange Inc. uses to track the currency against that of six major trade partners including the euro and yen, has increased 1.5 percent since Sept. 14 through yesterday.

Today’s report underscores the view of Fed policy makers that inflation will stay within their goal. Central bankers later today are projected to announce another $45 billion in monthly Treasury purchases, according to a Bloomberg survey of economists.

The import-price index is the first of three monthly price gauges from the Labor Department. Producer prices are due tomorrow and the consumer-price index on Dec. 14.

Prices of U.S. exports dropped 0.7 percent in November, the most in five months, today’s figures showed.

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