NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Prices at the consumer level were unchanged in February, according to the government, an indicator that inflation was kept in check during the month.

The nation's consumer price index, a measure of prices paid by households for goods and services, neither rose nor fell during the month. The Labor Department report indicated slumping energy prices were balanced with increasing costs for used cars and medical care.

According to Briefing.com, the Street expected the CPI to edge just higher by 0.1%. In January, prices rose by 0.2%.

After stripping out potentially erratic food and energy costs, the so-called "core" CPI reflected a 0.1% increase, which landed in line with expectations, after declining 0.1% in January.

Overall CPI also rose by an unadjusted 2.1% over the last year.

Energy prices fell 0.5% in February, led by a 1.4% drop in the measure's gasoline index and a 2.4% slide in fuel oil, while food costs edged up 0.1%. More specifically, used car and truck prices advanced 0.7% last month, while medical care prices ticked 0.5% higher.

Market observers are keeping close tabs on inflation measures since a substantial jump in prices is only one trigger that may lead the Federal Reserve to raise its key interest rate. Price results this week seemed to solidify the Fed's decision to keep its fed funds rate at its current historically low levels.

On Tuesday, a statement from the Federal Open Market Committee signaled, yet again, that "inflation is likely to be subdued for some time." The group also reiterated that the benchmark rate would stay at "exceptionally low levels ... for an extended period." But Kansas City Fed President Thomas Hoenig was the lone dissenter in the statement, disagreeing with the "extended period" language because of his concerns about inflation.

On Wednesday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics also reported wholesale prices slid by 0.6% in February.

Stocks traded mixed to flat after release of the price figures this morning, while a separate premarket report showed initial jobless claims inched lower last week. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was adding 20 points, or 0.2%, to 10,754, while the S&P 500 was holding flat, adding nearly a point, or 0.04%, to 1,167.

--Written by Sung Moss in New York

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