MARTIN CRUTSINGER AP Economics Writer WASHINGTON
Inflation at the wholesale level soared in January, pushed higher by rising costs for food, energy and medicine. The Labor Department said today that wholesale prices rose 1 percent last month, more than double the 0.4 percent increase that economists had been expecting. The January surge left wholesale prices rising by 7.5 percent over the past 12 months, the fastest pace in more than 26 years, since prices had risen at a 7.5 percent pace in the 12 months ending in October 1981. The worse-than-expected performance was certain to capture attention at the Federal Reserve, which has chosen to combat a threatened recession by aggressively cutting interest rates in the belief that weaker economic growth will keep a lid on prices. The combination of rising inflation and weaker growth raises the threat of "stagflation," the economic malady that plagued the country through the 1970s, when a series of oil shocks left households battered by the twin problems of stagnant growth and rising inflation. The 1 percent jump in wholesale prices followed a 0.3 percent decline in December and was the biggest one-month increase since a 2.6 percent increase in November. That gain had been driven by sharply higher energy costs. The big jump in wholesale prices followed a report last week that conSumer prices had risen by a worse-thanexpected 0. 4 percent, reflecting higher costs for food, energy and health care. The wholesale report said that energy prices jumped 1.5 percent, as gasoline prices rose by 2.9 percent and the cost of home heating oil jumped by 8.5 percent. Food prices, which have been surging because of increased demand stemming from ethanol production, rose by 1.7 percent last month, the biggest monthly increase in three years. Prices for beef, bakery products and eggs were all up sharply. Core wholesale inflation, which excludes food and energy, posted a 0.4 percent increase, the biggest increase in 11 months. This gain was led by a 1.5 percent spike in the cost of prescription and non-prescription drugs. The cost of book publishing was up 1. 7 percent while the price of light trucks and passenger cars both rose by 0. 3 percent. Prices excluding food and energy are up 2.5 percent over the past 12 months, the fastest 12-month gain since a 2.5 percent rise in the 12 months ending in October.