Import Prices up 0.3% in December, led by Higher Fuel Prices; Export Prices Fall 0.2%

Prices for U.S. imports advanced 0.3% in December, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today, after ticking up 0.1% the previous month. The December rise was driven by increasing fuel prices. U.S. export prices declined 0.2% in December following a 0.2% advance in November.

The price index for U.S. imports rose 0.3% in December, the largest monthly advance since the index increased 0.6% in March. Prices for imports rose 0.5% in 2019, after decreasing 0.9% in 2018. The 12-month advance in December was the largest over-the-year increase since the index rose 0.7% between November 2017 and November 2018.

Fuel Imports: Prices for import fuel increased 2.8% in December following a 1.3% advance the previous month. Higher December prices for both petroleum and natural gas contributed to the overall increase in fuel prices. Petroleum prices rose 2.1% in December, after not changing in November; prices for natural gas advanced 19.4% following a 42.0% November jump. The price index for import fuel increased 19.3% in 2019 following a 13.1% drop the previous year. A 22.3% rise in petroleum prices over the past year more than offset lower natural gas prices. Despite advancing 123.7% over the past quarter, prices for natural gas fell 13.3% in 2019.

All Imports Excluding Fuel: Nonfuel import prices were unchanged in December, after edging down 0.1% in November. Prices for nonfuel imports have not risen on a monthly basis since the index ticked up 0.1% in February. In December, declining nonfuel industrial supplies and materials prices offset higher prices for foods, feeds, and beverages and for finished goods. The price index for nonfuel imports decreased 1.4% in 2019 following a 0.6% advance the previous year. The 2019 decline was the first calendar-year drop since the index fell 3.4% in 2015. Prices for nonfuel industrial supplies and materials; finished goods; and foods, feeds, and beverages all decreased in 2019.

Nonfuel Industrial Supplies and Materials: The price index for nonfuel industrial supplies and materials declined 0.1% in December, after not changing in November. The December drop was led by a 1.2% decrease in unfinished metals prices.

Finished Goods: Finished goods prices were mostly up in December. Capital goods prices rose 0.1%, after a 0.3% drop in November. Prices for automotive vehicles also ticked up 0.1% in December following the same increase the previous month. Consumer goods were unchanged, after edging down 0.1% in November.

Foods, Feeds, and Beverages: Prices for foods, feeds, and beverages advanced 1.1% following a 0.5% decline the previous month. In December, rising prices for vegetables, meat, and fruit drove the overall increase.