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Two Economic Reports Could Fuel Hawks

The PPI rises more than expected, while housing starts surge.
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Two sets of economic data Tuesday could provide ammunition to inflation hawks, with both wholesale inflation and housing starts coming in above expectations.

The Labor Department's producer price index rose 0.6% in April, about two-tenths of a percent more than economists expected. Excluding food and energy, the core PPI rose 0.3%, compared with economists' expectation for a 0.2% gain.

Separately, the Commerce Department said housing starts ran at an annual rate of 2,038,000 in April, about 38,000 more than expected. The 11% jump in April was 2 percentage points higher than forecast and followed a nearly 18% plunge in March.

Building permits rose 5.3% in April after falling 3.4% in March.

The rise in producer prices, which followed a similar 0.7% gain in March, is the latest data point to suggest stubbornly high energy prices continue to be felt by manufacturers. Energy prices were up 2.1% last month, including a 2.6% increase in gasoline prices.

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In the course of eight consecutive interest rate hikes, the

Federal Reserve

has been on the fence in its assessment of energy inflation. It has expressed roughly equal concern that rising fuel prices will both sap economic growth and trickle through to consumers.

"Recent data suggest that the solid pace of spending growth has slowed somewhat, partly in response to the earlier increases in energy prices," the Federal Open Market Committee noted in its May 3 policy statement. At the same time, the Fed omitted a sentence stating that energy inflation hadn't notably fed through to core consumer prices.

Other factors in April's uptick were drug prices, which rose 0.9%, and tobacco, which rose 1%. Food prices were up just 0.1%.