U.S. Prices Snap Five-month Drop, Jobless Number Climbs

Producer price index up 0.8%

The U.S. broke a five-month streak of falling wholesale prices but jobless numbers remained at elevated levels in the world's largest economy mired in deep recession, government data showed on Feb. 19.

A rebound in energy prices helped pull the producer price index, which captures prices at the wholesale level, up 0.8% in January, the first increase in six months, the Labor Department said.

"One month does not make a trend, however, and there is little reason to think this will continue," said Aaron Smith of Moody's Economy.com.

On an annual basis, wholesale prices fell 1% from January 2008, after declining 0.9% in December from a year earlier.

Te first two U.S. regional manufacturing surveys for February point toward a sharp contraction in production, investment and employment, said Ryan Sweet of Moody's Economy.com. "The surveys also heighten concerns the economy is headed for a deflationary trap," he said.

Amid the price concerns, the number of unemployed American workers continued to mount. Continuing claims for unemployment benefits rose by 170,000 to 4.987 million for the week ending February 7, another all-time high, the Labor Department said. The rapid pace of layoffs was evident in initial jobless claims.

Although initial claims for government unemployment benefits were unchanged at 627,000 for the week ending February 14, the much watched four-week moving average has now increased in each of the last four weeks, experts said.

Meanwhile, a key corporate index of leading economic indicators rose a surprising 0.4% in January, the second consecutive monthly gain, giving a ray of hope that an economic rebound could occur. The Conference Board's index, a gauge of economic conditions over a six-month horizon, showed a larger than expected rise from the 0.2% gain in December.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2009

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