) -- The Producer Price Index (PPI) for finished goods moved up 0.2% in December, the

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

reported on Wednesday.

The core PPI increase was smaller than a 1.8% advance in November and a 0.3% increase in October.

Prices for finished goods advanced 4.4% in 2009, after falling 0.9% percent in 2008.

In December, higher prices for consumer foods led the PPI increase, with a spike of 1.4%. Energy goods were the laggard, declining 0.4%.

The consumer foods increase was the third consecutive monthly increase.

The situation in energy reversed, after two consecutive monthly gains. The gasoline index decline of 3.2% was the biggest culprit, though lower prices for residential natural gas also were a factor.

There were some notable three-month gainers among the PPI data as well.

The PPI for Crude Materials for Further Processing increased 1% percent in December, and for the 3-month period ending in December, crude material prices rose 12.6% after declining 2.4% in the 3 months ending in September.

Prices for crude foodstuffs and feedstuffs rose 3.8% in December. This index jumped 12.1% in the most recent 3-month period, compared with an 8.5%decline in the previous 3-month period.

Over half of the monthly increase of the PPI index for crude nonfood materials less energy can be attributed to a 12.7% jump in prices for iron and steel scrap. This index moved up 5% percent in December, and 4.8% for the 3 months ending in December. That trailed the 12% increase in the three month period ended in September.

All the major market indexes opened lower on Wednesday morning. An unexpected drop in housing starts in the U.S. was also reported by the government on Wednesday morning.

-Reported by Eric Rosenbaum in New York.

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