Wholesale inflation hike largest in 26 years
January 15, 2008

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Wholesale inflation shot up in 2007 by the largest amount in 26 years even though falling gasoline costs allowed price pressures to moderate in December.

The Labor Department reported that wholesale inflation was up 6.3 percent for all of 2007, reflecting a huge increase for the year in various types of energy costs ranging from gasoline to home heating oil.

The year ended on a more positive note, with wholesale prices falling by 0.1 percent in December. That reflected decreasing costs at the time for gasoline and other energy products. It was a significant slowdown after prices had soared by 3.2 percent in November, which had been the biggest one-month increase in 34 years.

Meanwhile, the Commerce Department reported that retail sales fell by 0.4 percent in December. It was a worse-than-expected decline and increased worries that the country could topple into a recession.

The combination of rising inflation pressures and a weak economy represent a dilemma for the Federal Reserve over whether to cut rates to boost economic growth even at the risk of making inflation worse.

But last week, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke sent a strong signal that the Fed is more worried at the moment about weak growth than inflation -- given a series of weaker-than-expected data in recent weeks.

The economy skidded to a virtual standstill in the final three months of last year, raising fears the country could fall into a recession, unable to withstand the multiple blows from a prolonged downturn in housing, a severe credit crisis and soaring energy costs.

Already, unemployment is rising. The jobless rate jumped to 5 percent in December, up from 4.7 percent in November. That was the biggest one-month surge in unemployment since October 2001 in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Original Text