© Reuters. Gasoline prices are displayed in Oceanside, California
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – US import prices rose more than expected in December, driven by higher prices for energy products and a weak dollar, suggesting that inflation could pick up in the near term. The Labor Department said on Thursday that import prices rose 0.9% last month after rising 0.2% in November. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast that import prices, which exclude tariffs, would accelerate 0.7% in December. In the 12 months through December, import prices fell 0.3% after falling 1.0% in November. Fuel prices soared 7.8% after rising 4.8% in November. Imported food prices fell 0.2%. Excluding fuels and food, import prices rose 0.4% after remaining unchanged in November. So-called basic import prices are on the rise following the recent weakness of the dollar against the currencies of the main US trading partners and could keep inflation sustained this year. The government reported on Wednesday that consumer prices rose 0.4% in December. Last month, the cost of imported goods from China rose 0.3% after gaining 0.2% in November. The prices of imported capital goods were unchanged for the third consecutive month. The cost of imported motor vehicles did not change either. But the prices of consumer goods excluding automobiles rose 0.1%. The report also showed that export prices rose 1.1% in December and rose 0.7% in November. The prices of agricultural exports increased by 0.6% while non-agricultural exports increased by 1.3%. Export prices increased 0.2% year-on-year in December. That was the first annual increase since last January and followed a 1.1% decrease in November.