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Plunging Petroleum Prices Pushed Import Prices Down 2.3% in March

April 14, 2020
Other import/export price indexes declined slightly.

Data released by the Department of Labor’s statistics bureau show that import and export prices fell slightly in March. The price index for imports fell 2.3%, following a 0.7% decline in February. U.S. export prices continued to decline, falling 1.6% in March and 1.1% in February.

The decline in the price index for imports was mainly driven by lower fuel prices. Compared to the price index for all imports, which fell 2.3% the steepest monthly drop since January 2015, petroleum prices fell by 26.8% in March after falling 9.0% in February. The February-to-March 2020 drop is the largest decrease in import fuel prices since November 2008, when that index fell 27.8%. Natural gas prices continued to fall in March, decreasing by 16.5%, following February’s loss of 14.0% and January’s 12.2% drop.

Nonfuel import prices were mostly unchanged, falling half a percent. Lower prices for consumer goods, including food and beverages, offset higher prices for industrial supplies and materials, vehicles and capital goods.

In exports, March 2020’s price indexes were 2.2% lower than those of March 2019, the largest over-the-year decrease since May 2015 to May 2016, when export prices fell 4.5%. Agricultural export prices fell 1.4% following a 2.7% decrease in February. Nonagricultural export prices fell 1.5%. Prices for industrial supplies and materials fell 4.6% in March, in part driven by falling fuel prices. Capital goods and vehicle prices rose, offsetting falling consumer prices.  

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