Business briefs: Gas prices climb, supplies slide

April 16, 2014 

SAN FRANCISCO -- Retail gasoline jumped to the highest level in more than eight months as gasoline stockpiles shrank amid increasing demand for the motor-fuel.

Regular, unleaded gasoline at U.S. filling stations averaged $3.651 a gallon Monday, up 5.5 cents from a week ago and 3.1 percent above year-earlier levels, the Energy Information Administration said on its website Tuesday. Prices rose the most on the West Coast, known as the PADD 5 region, where gasoline surged 9.7 cents to $3.977 a gallon.

Pump prices have climbed for 10 straight weeks as refinery maintenance limits supplies and weather delays deliveries of ethanol by rail. Gasoline inventories reached a three-year seasonal low last week as the nation kicks off its summer driving season, which typically runs from April to September.

Retail gasoline is expected to peak at $3.66 a gallon in May before declining for the rest of the year, the EIA said in a summer fuels outlook April 8.

U.S. gasoline consumption climbed 3.3 percent to 9 million barrels a day in the week ended April 4, a three-year seasonal high, data compiled by the EIA show. Gasoline supplies shrank 2.4 percent in that same period to 210.4 million barrels.

Food, housing costs rise sharply in March

Food and housing costs rose sharply in March, but overall inflation remained low, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Tuesday.

The federal government's consumer price index rose 0.2 percent in March, a measurement that shows average price changes in goods and services purchased by Americans. In the past 12 months, overall core inflation -- excluding the volatile food and energy indexes -- rose 1.7 percent.

Recent drought and other extreme weather patterns have driven beef prices to all-time highs and that was reflected in the government's food index, which rose 0.4 percent in March, following an identical increase the month before.

The index showed much steeper increases in certain food categories. The index for poultry, meats and eggs, for instance, showed a second consecutive increase of 1.2 percent last month.

The energy index, which includes gas prices, declined in March, falling 0.1 percent. The rental index showed an uptick of 0.3 percent in March, signaling higher rent prices. In the past 12 months, the shelter index has increased 2.7 percent.

Homebuilder confidence steady but weak in April

Homebuilder confidence nationwide inched up this month, but remains shaky as the spring homebuying season gets underway.

The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index, released Tuesday, remained essentially flat in April at 47. A level below 50 means more builders see

the market for new, single-family homes as poor rather than good.

The association's chief economist, David Crowe, said builders are pessimistic for several reasons: tight credit for potential buyers and a short supply of skilled labor and ready-to-build lots.

Though prices in most markets remain far below those of the bubble days, housing has become increasingly unaffordable for many after rapid price gains last year. That, along with a rise in mortgage rates, has slowed demand and the recovery.

Builders are more optimistic about the future, the survey found: The segment gauging expectations for future sales rose 4 points to 57.

-- Herald wire reports

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