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Originally published Tuesday, May 15, 2012 at 1:12 PM

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Inflation in Seattle area climbs, while national price index shrinks

Locally gas and clothing prices were up, but food prices declined between February and April.

Seattle Times business reporter

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Consumer prices accelerated in the Seattle area last month, powered largely by sharply higher gasoline prices, even as the pace of inflation slowed in the rest of the country.

Seattle-area prices, which are tracked every other month, rose 0.9 percent between February and April, the first increase in the local index since October.

The index rose 2.9 percent for the 12 months between April 2011 and last month, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. That compared with a 12-month inflation rate of 2.7 percent in February.

Nationally, prices were flat last month, and inflation was running at a 12-month rate of 2.3 percent, before seasonal adjustments, down from 2.7 percent in March. It was the seventh straight monthly decline for the U.S. Consumer Price Index.

As anyone who's filled a gas tank lately might surmise, fuel prices were behind much of the local inflation increase.

The average price of gas in Washington has jumped 12.5 cents in the past week, versus a national decline of 5 cents. Regular self-serve gasoline in Washington was selling Tuesday for an average $4.21 a gallon — more than 48 cents higher than the national average, according to the AAA Daily Fuel Gauge Report.

Unleaded regular gasoline in metro Seattle cost 14.2 percent more in April than in February, according to the BLS, and 6 percent more than a year earlier.

Apparel cost 2.9 percent more in April than in February and 8.6 percent more than a year earlier. It was the other main driver of local inflation, BLS regional Commissioner Richard Holden said.

Food prices moderated, however. Grocery prices fell 1.1 percent between February and April, and were up just 1.1 percent over the previous 12 months. Nationally, by contrast, food climbed 3.1 percent over 12 months.

The continuing weakness of the local housing market — and its flip side, higher rents — also was reflected in the inflation report. While "owners' equivalent rent of primary residence," a proxy for home prices, was up just 2.8 percent over the past year, rental housing has risen 6.5 percent.

Nationally, lower pump prices may be combining with steady job growth to power more spending on big purchases.

Sales of autos, furniture and electronics all rose in April, the Commerce Department said Tuesday, and Americans spent more at restaurants and bars — generally a sign of confidence in the economy.

Despite the strength in those key areas, overall retail sales rose just 0.1 percent last month, after stronger months in February and March.

"The fall in pump and utility prices is offering considerable relief to consumers," said Chris Christopher, senior principal economist for IHS Global Insight. "However, rising food prices are especially problematic to households that are on tight budgets."

Information from Seattle Times reporter Erin Flemming and The Associated Press was used in this story.

Drew DeSilver: 206-464-3145 or

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