The consumer-price index increased 0.2 percent for a fifth straight month, led by higher fuel costs, Labor Department figures showed. Excluding energy and food, the so-called core index unexpectedly fell 0.1 percent, reflecting a drop in new-car prices, clothing and shelter.
Energy costs jumped 2.8 percent in January, led by higher prices for fuel oil and gasoline. The cost of crude oil on the New York Mercantile Exchange averaged $78.40 last month, up from $74.60 in December.
Gasoline prices increased 4.4 percent, the most since August. The cost at the pump rose 10 cents to $2.71 a gallon on average in January, from $2.61 the previous month, according to AAA. The price has since retreated.
Compared with January 2009, the CPI rose 2.6 percent after climbing 2.7 percent the previous month. The year-over-year gains in the consumer price index have been getting bigger as crude oil prices increase from an almost five-year low in December 2008.
Food costs, which account for about 15 percent of the CPI, increased 0.2 percent in January, reflecting higher prices for dairy products, meat and fruits and vegetables.
Shelter costs that include lodging away from home and rental properties fell 0.5 percent. Owners-equivalent rent, one of the categories used to track rental prices, fell 0.1 percent last month after no change.
New-car prices fell 0.5 percent in January, the most since August, and apparel costs dropped 0.1 percent. Medical-care costs rose 0.5 percent in January, the most in two years.
The CPI is the broadest of the three monthly price gauges from the Labor Department because it includes goods and services. Reports this week showed 1.4 percent gains in both the cost of imported goods and wholesale prices in January. Both increases were more than anticipated.
Almost 60 percent of the CPI covers prices consumers pay for services ranging from medical visits to airline fares and movie tickets. Airline fares fell 2.5 percent in January, the most since February 2009.