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Import prices fall; lower oil prices to help households

A cargo ship is anchored outside the Port of Long Beach, California December 4, 2012. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
A cargo ship is anchored outside the Port of Long Beach, California December 4, 2012. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Import prices fell in April due to a drop in oil costs, a positive sign for household finances that also pointed to benign inflation pressures.

Import prices slipped 0.5 percent last month, the biggest decline since December, the Labor Department said on Tuesday. March's data was revised to show a 0.2 percent decline instead of the previously reported 0.5 percent drop.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected prices to fall 0.5 percent last month. In the 12 months to April, import prices fell 2.6 percent.

Stripping out petroleum, import prices dipped 0.1 percent.

The tame inflation environment should allow the Federal Reserve to stay on its ultra-easy monetary policy course as it tries to nurse the economy back to health.

At its policy meeting earlier this month the central bank decided to continue buying $85 billion worth of bonds every month to push long-term interest rates downward.

At the same time, the economy has lately shown signs of resilience despite austerity measures enacted this year by Washington.

The National Federation of Independent Business said on Tuesday its gauge of confidence for small U.S. businesses rose in April to its highest in six months.

Lower oil prices are also helping household finances. The United States imports much of the fuel it consumes. Last month, imported petroleum prices fell 1.9 percent.

The Labor Department report also showed export prices fell 0.7 percent last month, the largest decline since June.

(Reporting by Jason Lange; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

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