The consumer-price index rose 0.1 percent, following a 0.4 percent gain in November, Labor Department figures showed. Excluding food and energy costs, the so-called core index also increased 0.1 percent.
Companies may have little success raising prices with unemployment projected to average 10 percent this year, the highest annual rate in seven decades. Federal Reserve policy makers have said they expect subdued” inflation in coming months, allowing them to keep interest rates close to zero to help fuel growth.
Americans paid 2.7 percent more for goods and services in 2009. The annual gain followed a 0.1 percent rise in 2008 that was the smallest since 1954 as energy costs plunged the most since those records began four years later.
Prices excluding food and energy rose 1.8 percent in 2009, matching the previous year as the smallest gain since 2003. Service costs, which make up 60 percent of the CPI, rose 0.9 percent last year, the smallest gain since 1945.
Energy costs increased 0.2 percent in December, less than the previous month as gasoline and fuel oil costs slowed.
The year-over-year gains in the consumer price index are getting bigger as crude oil prices increase from an almost five- year low in December 2008. Energy costs last year jumped 18.2 percent, the most since 1979.
Crude oil futures traded on the New York Mercantile Exchange averaged $74.60 in December, compared with $78.15 the previous month. Prices have rebounded this month, averaging $81.59 a barrel.
Gasoline prices in December averaged $2.61, compared with $2.65 a gallon the previous month, according to AAA. Prices for regular-grade gasoline at the pump have climbed to an average of $2.71 so far this month.
Food costs, which account for about 15 percent of the CPI, increased 0.2 percent in December, reflecting higher prices for fruits and vegetables, dairy products and cereals. The cost of food for all of last year dropped 0.5 percent, the biggest decline since 1961.
Rents, which make up almost 40 percent of the core CPI, were unchanged. Owners-equivalent rent, one of the categories used to track rental prices, held steady last month after a 0.1 percent decline. Owner-equivalent rent hasn’t risen since August.
The CPI is the broadest of the three monthly price gauges from the Labor Department because it includes goods and services. A report yesterday showed the cost of imported goods was unchanged last month. The Labor Department is scheduled to report December wholesale prices on Jan. 20.
Almost 60 percent of the CPI covers prices consumers pay for services ranging from medical visits to airline fares and movie tickets.