WASHINGTON - Prices that U.S. consumers paid for goods and services other than gasoline and heating oil remained tame in February, the Labor Department reported.

Workers' average weekly earnings fell 0.5% in February, after accounting for inflation, following a 0.5% January rise, according to the report released Friday.

The consumer price index's core rate, which excludes energy and food costs, rose 0.2% last month, matching January's increase and the average monthly gain since the current record expansion began in 1991, Labor Department figures showed.

Analysts expected a 0.4% increase in the overall CPI in February and a 0.2% rise in the core rate.

The costs of new cars, computers, and telephone services fell last month, restraining the effect of rising energy and food prices. The overall CPI rose 0.5% last month - the largest gain since April - after increasing 0.2% in January. That reflected a record gain in home heating oil costs and rising prices of gasoline at the pump.

For the 12 months that ended in February, the core CPI rose 2.1%. That's up from the year-over-year increase of 1.9% in January, which was the smallest since 1965. All goods and services prices were up 3.2% in the 12 months that ended in February, the biggest year-over-year increase since December 1996, when it was 3.3%.

Energy prices, which account for about one-tenth of the CPI, rose 4.6% in February - the largest increase since April 1999 - after rising 1% in January. February's rise was led by a record 34.6% increase in heating oil prices. Gasoline prices rose 6.3%.

The average weekly price of a gallon of unleaded was $1.377 in February, up 6.8% from the $1.289 a gallon average in January, according to Department of Energy statistics.

Transportation costs rose 1.3% in February following a 0.1% rise in January. Airfares rose 3.8%, the biggest gain since October. New vehicle prices fell 0.1% in February after falling 0.3% in January.

Food prices, which account for about one-fifth of the index, rose 0.4% last month, the largest gain since October 1998. Last month's increase reflected gains in the costs of beef, veal, pork, and fresh fruit.

- Bloomberg News

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