U.S. farmers face devastation following Midwest floods

U.S. farmers face devastation following Midwest floods

By Humeyra Pamuk, P.J. Huffstutter and Tom Polansek

WINSLOW, Neb./CHICAGO (Reuters) – Midwestern farmers have been gambling they could ride out the U.S.-China trade war by storing their corn and soybeans anywhere they could – in bins, plastic tubes, in barns or even outside.

Now, the unthinkable has happened. Record floods have devastated a wide swath of the Farm Belt across Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and several other states. Early estimates of lost crops and livestock are approaching $1 billion in Nebraska alone. With more flooding expected, damages are expected to climb much higher for the region.

As river levels rose, spilling over levees and swallowing up townships, farmers watched helplessly as the waters consumed not only their fields but their stockpiles of grain, the one thing that can stand between them and financial ruin.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in my life,” said Tom Geisler, a farmer in Winslow, Nebraska, who said he lost two full storage bins of corn. “We had been depending on the income from our livestock, but now all of our feed is gone, so that is going to be even more difficult. We haven’t been making any money from our grain farming because of trade issues and low prices.”

The pain does not end there. As the waters began to recede in parts of Nebraska, the damage to the rural roads, bridges and rail lines was just beginning to emerge. This infrastructure is critical for the U.S. agricultural sector to move products from farms to processing plants and shipping hubs.

The damage to roads means it will be harder for trucks to deliver seed to farmers for the coming planting season, but in some areas, the flooding on fields will render them all-but-impossible to use.

The deluge is the latest blow for the Farm Belt, which has faced several crises in the last five years, as farm incomes have fallen by more than 50 percent due to a global grain glut. President Donald Trump’s trade policies cut off exports of soybeans and other products, making the situation worse.

Soybeans were the single most valuable U.S. agricultural export crop and until the trade war, China bought $12 billion worth a year from American farmers. But Chinese tariffs have almost halted the trade, leaving farmers with crops they are struggling to sell for a profit.

CORN AND SOYBEANS DESTROYED

As prices plummeted last year amid the ongoing trade fight, growers, faced with selling crops at a loss, stuffed a historic volume of grain into winding plastic tubes and steel bins. Some cash-strapped families piled crops inside their barns or outside on the ground.

Farmers say they are now finding storage bags torn and bins burst open, grain washed away or contaminated. Jeff Jorgenson, a farmer and regional director for the Iowa Soybean Association, said he has seen at least a dozen bins that burst after grains swelled when they became wet.

Under U.S. Food and Drug Administration policy, flood-soaked grain is considered adulterated and must be destroyed, according to Iowa State University.

Some farmers had been waiting for corn prices to rise just 10 cents a bushel more before making sales, which would earn them a few extra thousand dollars, Jorgenson said.

“That’s the toughest pill to swallow,” Jorgenson said. “This could end their career of farming and the legacy of the family farm.”

As of Dec. 1, producers in states with flooding – including South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin and Illinois – had 6.75 billion bushels of corn, soybeans and wheat stored on their farms – 38 percent of the total U.S. supplies available at that time, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

Iowa suffered at least $150 million in damage to agricultural buildings and machinery, and 100,000 acres of farmland are under water, said Keely Coppess, a spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

Jorgenson surveyed more than two dozen local farmers to assess the damage and tallied about 1.25 million bushels of corn and 390,000 bushels of soybeans lost just in Fremont County, Iowa, worth an estimated $7.3 million.

EXTENT OF DAMAGE UNCLEAR

The record flooding has killed at least four people in the Midwest and left one person missing. The extent of damage is unknown as meteorologists expect more flooding in the coming weeks.

Early estimates put flood damage at $400 million in losses for Nebraska’s cow-calf industry and another $440 million in crop losses, Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts told a news conference on Wednesday.

“The water came so fast,” said John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union. “We know our farmers didn’t have enough time to move all the cattle or empty all their grain bins.”

Multiple washouts and high water on BNSF Railway Co’s main lines have caused major disruption across parts of the Midwest, the company warned on its website. The flooding also has disrupted part of Hormel Foods Corp’s supply chain, the company told Reuters.

The roads are so bad that Nebraska’s National Guard on Wednesday will push hay out of a military helicopter to feed cattle in Colfax County stranded by floodwaters, Major General Daryl Bohac said. It is the first time in at least half a century that such an airdrop has been conducted, he said.

Cattle carcasses have been found tangled in debris or rotting in trees, while tractors and other expensive machinery are stuck in mud, unable to be moved. At Geisler’s farm in Winslow, Nebraska, two trucks and a tractor were seen buried in mud in wooden barns where water pooled.

“We should have been getting into planting for next season, but now all of our equipment is flooded and it’s going to take at least three to four weeks to bring back that equipment into shape,” said Geisler.

(Reporting by P.J. Huffstutter and Tom Polansek in Chicago and Humeyra Pamuk in Winslow, Nebraska; Additional reporting by Julie Ingwersen and Mark Weinraub in Chicago; Editing by David Gaffen and Matthew Lewis)

Japan’s heat wave drives up food prices, prison inmate dies

A woman uses a parasol on the street during a heatwave in Tokyo, Japan July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

TOKYO (Reuters) – Vegetable prices in Japan are spiking as much as 65 percent in the grip of a grueling heat wave, which drove temperatures on Wednesday to records in some areas hit by flooding and landslides, hampering clean-up and recovery efforts.

As many as 65 people died in the week to July 22, up from 12 the previous week, government figures show, while a prisoner in his forties died of a heat stroke in central Miyoshi city, amid what medical experts called an “unprecedented” heat wave.

An agriculture ministry official in Tokyo, the capital, warned against “pretty severe price moves” for vegetables if predictions of more weeks of hot weather held up, resulting in less rain than usual.

“It’s up to the weather how prices will move from here,” the official said. “But the Japan Meteorological Agency has predicted it will remain hot for a few more weeks, and that we will have less rain than the average.”

The most recent data showed the wholesale price of cabbage was 129 yen ($1.16) per kg in Tokyo on Monday, the ministry said, for example, an increase of 65 percent over the average late-July price of the past five years.

Temperatures in Japan’s western cities of Yamaguchi and Akiotacho reached record highs of 38.8 Celsius (101.8 Fahrenheit) and 38.6 C (101.5 F), respectively, on Wednesday afternoon.

In Takahashi, another western city and one of the areas hit hardest by this month’s flooding, the mercury reached 38.7 C (101.7 F), just 0.3 degrees off an all-time high.

In Miyoshi, where the prisoner died after a heat stroke, the temperature on the floor of his cell was 34 degrees C (93 F) shortly before 7 a.m. on Tuesday. The room had no air-conditioning, like most in the prison.

Authorities who found him unresponsive in his cell sent him to a hospital outside the prison, but he was soon pronounced dead, a prison official said.

“It is truly regrettable that an inmate lost his life,” Kiyoshi Kageyama, head of the prison, said in a statement. “We will do our utmost in maintaining (prisoners’) health, including taking anti-heat stroke steps.”

On the Tokyo stock market, shares in companies expected to benefit from a hot summer, such as ice-cream makers, have risen in recent trade.

Shares in Imuraya Group, whose subsidiary sells popular vanilla and red-bean ice cream, were up nearly 10 percent on the month, while Ishigaki Foods, which sells barley tea, surged 50 percent over the same period.

Kimono-clad women using sun umbrellas pause on a street during a heatwave in Tokyo, Japan July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Kimono-clad women using sun umbrellas pause on a street during a heatwave in Tokyo, Japan July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

In neighboring South Korea, the unremitting heat has killed at least 14 people this year, the Korea Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention said.

The heat wave was at the level of a “special disaster”, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Tuesday, as electricity use surged and vegetable prices rose.

(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo and Jeongmin Kim in SEOUL; Additional reporting by Ritsuko Ando and Aaron Sheldrick in TOKYO; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Venezuela’s monthly inflation rises to 34 percent: National Assembly

Venezuela's monthly inflation rises to 34 percent: National Assembly

By Girish Gupta and Corina Pons

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela’s monthly inflation rate jumped to 33.8 percent in August, with food price rises reaching hyper-inflationary levels above 50 percent, the opposition-controlled National Assembly said on Thursday.

The government stopped releasing the data more than a year ago amid a deep economic crisis, but the National Assembly has published its own figures since January. They are generally in line with private economists’ estimates.

The latest month-on-month inflation figure was a jump from the 26 percent rise in prices reported in July.

In the first eight months of 2017, prices rose a cumulative 366.4 percent, according to the legislative body.

“Food is now in hyperinflation,” said opposition lawmaker Angel Alvarado, adding that the food sector had seen price rises of 51 percent in August.

Economists usually define hyperinflation as occurring when monthly rates exceed 50 percent.

Millions of Venezuelans are suffering from food and medicine shortages as the oil producer struggles with an economic crisis that spurred months of nationwide unrest earlier this year.

However, the protests have died down in recent weeks, with many in the opposition viewing them as fruitless after socialist President Nicolas Maduro’s government sidelined the National Assembly and created its own legislative superbody.

‘ECONOMIC WAR’

The country’s bolivar currency also weakened past 20,000 per dollar on the widely-used black market on Thursday for the first time. It has lost 95 percent of its value against the U.S. currency in the past year.

The value of $1,000 in local currency purchased when Maduro came to power in April 2013 would now be worth $1.20.

Maduro blames the crisis on the country’s opposition and the United States, whom he says are waging an “economic war” against his government.

Critics blame Maduro’s economic policies including a currency policy that pegs the bolivar at 10 per dollar at the strongest rate and the strict price controls which they say disincentivize production.

Opponents also point to a rapidly rising money supply. The country’s M2 figure is up 431 percent in the last year alone.

The exponential rise in M2 – the sum of cash, together with checking, savings, and other deposits – means an exponential rise in the amount of currency circulating.

Coupled with a decline in the output of goods and services, that has accelerated inflation.

(Writing by Girish Gupta; Editing by Paul Simao)

World food prices climb in May, import bill to rise in 2017: FAO

FILE PHOTO: Canadian pork shoulders are being prepped on a butcher's counter at North Hill Meats in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on May 10, 2017. Picture taken on May 10, 2017. REUTERS/Hyungwon Kang/File Photo

ROME (Reuters) – Global food prices rose in May from the month before after three months of decline, and the world’s food import bill is set to jump in 2017, the United Nations food agency said on Thursday.

Higher values for all food goods except sugar lifted prices on international markets 10 percent above the same month last year, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said.

Rising shipping costs and larger import volumes are due to push the cost of importing food globally to more than $1.3 trillion in 2017, FAO said.

This would be a 10.6 percent rise over 2016’s import bill, despite broad stability in markets buoyed by ample supplies of wheat and maize and higher production of oilseed products.

Poor countries that rely on imports to cover their food needs, and part of sub-Saharan Africa are on course for an even faster rise in their import costs as they buy in more meat, sugar, dairy and oilseed products.

All food categories except fish are due to add to rising import bills, as robust growth in aquaculture in many developing countries increasingly manages to meet domestic demand.

FAO’s food price index, which measures monthly changes for a basket of cereals, oilseeds, dairy products, meat and sugar, averaged 172.6 points in May, up 2.2 percent from April.

FAO trimmed its forecast for global cereals output in the 2017-18 season to 2.594 billion tonnes, down 0.5 percent year-on-year. Global wheat production is expected to decline 2.2 percent after a record harvest last year.

(Reporting by Isla Binnie, editing by Steve Scherer and Crispian Balmer)

Prices soar, families use river water as Islamic State besieges Syrian city

FILE PHOTO: An Islamic State flag is seen in this picture

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Food prices have soared and families are drinking untreated river water in the Syrian city of Deir al-Zor, the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF said on Monday, as a siege imposed by Islamic State threatens tens of thousands of civilians.

Islamic State militants launched a fierce assault on Syrian government-held areas of Deir al-Zor earlier this month, capturing an area used to supply the city through air drops as the assault cut the state-controlled area in two.

“The escalation of violence threatens the lives of 93,000 civilians, including over 40,000 children who have been cut off from regular humanitarian aid for over two years,” said Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF regional director, in a statement.

“Indiscriminate shelling has reportedly killed scores of civilians and forced others to remain in their homes. Food prices have sky-rocketed to levels five to ten times higher than in the capital, Damascus. Chronic water shortages are forcing families to fetch untreated water from the Euphrates River, exposing children to the risk of waterborne diseases,” he said.

The assault appears to be part of an IS effort to shore up its presence in Syria as it loses ground in Iraq.

Islamic State controls nearly all of Deir al-Zor province, with the government-held part of the city and nearby air base representing the only state-controlled part of the area.

Islamic State encircled the government-held area of Deir al-Zor city in July 2014. Since April 2016, the World Food Program has completed more than 177 air drops to the city. But these stopped on Jan. 15 when IS seized control of the drop zone to the west of a government air base near the city.

(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

U.S. farmers race to ready for Hurricane Matthew’s blast

Cars are seen along Deerfield beach near Coral Springs while Hurricane Matthew approaches in Florida,

By Chris Prentice

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Hurricane Matthew, the fiercest Caribbean storm in nearly a decade, roiled commodities markets and forced companies from cane refiners to orange juice makers to shutter as it whipped its way toward the southeastern United States on Thursday.

Southeastern companies were closing down operations ahead of a storm that could threaten some two million tonnes of sugar and trees representing over 90 million boxes of citrus fruits in Florida. About half a million acres of cotton were at risk from torrential rain in North and South Carolina, where farmers have already been struggling during a rainy harvest.

Officials issued a state of emergency for parts of Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas for the Category 4 hurricane that by Thursday afternoon had already taken the lives of 140 people, mostly in Haiti. Port operations along the coast were slowing or shut.

For commodities markets including U.S. sugar, orange juice and cotton, the storm prompted a volatile week of trade. Though forecasters like senior meteorologist Drew Lerner of World Weather Inc said damage to Florida’s sugar and citrus crops would likely be limited, producers were readying for the worst.

The storm has forced a shutdown of sugar operations just days into the harvest, said Ryan Weston, executive vice president of the Sugar Cane League, which represents growers in Florida, Texas and Hawaii.

“Depending on the intensity and path of the winds, hurricanes will knock the cane down to the ground, slowing harvest way down. It hurts this harvest and the next,” Weston said.

The storm was expected to hit Florida or brush along the state’s east coast through Friday night, then work its way up the Atlantic coast.

As of 5 p.m. (2100 GMT) Thursday, Matthew contained sustained winds of 140 mph and gusts up to 165 mph, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center. It was about 100 miles east-southeast of West Palm Beach, Florida, and was moving to the north-northwest at 14 mph.

Florida’s east coast, predominantly grapefruit country, was expected to bear the brunt of the storm. There, trees have already been weakened from disease, said Lerner.

“Our growers are already facing challenges,” said Nikki Hayde, senior marketing manager for Florida’s Natural Growers, a cooperative of about 1,000 citrus farmers throughout the state.

“We are trying to get out orders that were scheduled for Thursday and Friday on the road as quickly as possible,” she said.

‘HARVESTING AS FAST AS WE CAN’

The U.S. livestock industry was also closely tracking the storm’s path, likely to brush the hog-rich Carolinas.

Smithfield Foods, a subsidiary of WH Group Ltd and the world’s largest hog producer and pork processor, moved to protect people, animals and buildings from the impending storm, said company spokeswoman Keira Lombardo in an e-mail.

Crews at the port of Wilmington, North Carolina, prepared for Matthew’s winds by lowering container stacks and tying down equipment.

In North and South Carolina’s cotton-growing regions, farmers raced to bring in fiber from fields where rains have delayed harvesting and the plants were at one of their most vulnerable stages, most susceptible to the 2 to 15 inches of rain expected.

“It’s tricky,” said Michael Quinn, president and chief executive of Carolinas Cotton Growers Cooperative Inc. “The growers are harvesting as fast as they can.”

“We are closely monitoring conditions ahead of the storm and working proactively with farmers to help them prepare for a significant rainfall event. Governor McCrory has declared a state of emergency for all 100 counties in North Carolina as we brace for as much as 10 to 12 inches of rain in our coastal areas,” said North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality spokeswoman Stephanie Hawco.

(Corrects quote in last paragraph to say “for all 100 counties in North Carolina,” not “for all 100 counties in central and eastern North Carolina”.)

(Reporting by Chris Prentice in New York and Theopolis Waters and Karl Plume in Chicago; Editing by James Dalgleish)

World food prices rise to highest in 18 months in September

food - grain, pasta, rice

By Steve Scherer

ROME (Reuters) – World food prices rose in September to their highest since March 2015, led mainly by sugar, the United Nations food agency said on Thursday.

Except for a small dip in July, the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) food price index has been increasing steadily since January, when it hit a seven-year low.

The index, which measures monthly changes for a basket of cereals, oilseeds, dairy products, meat and sugar, averaged 170.9 points in September, 2.9 percent above the month before and 10 percent higher than the same month last year.

Sugar prices surged 6.7 percent in September from the previous month, largely because of bad weather in Brazil, the world’s biggest sugar producer and exporter, FAO said.

While cereal prices declined slightly, meat edged up and dairy and vegetable oil prices increased.

“A lot of the September increase has to do with sugar, so if sugar were to stop increasing, the index would be more or less flat,” said FAO senior economist Abdolreza Abbassian. “But the scope for big declines is not there.”

FAO raised slightly its forecast for world cereal production in the 2016-17 season rose to 2.569 billion tonnes, which would be a new record high and a 1.5 percent increase on the previous season. World wheat output is seen at 742.4 million tonnes, up slightly from the previous forecast of 740.7 million tonnes.

Cereal stocks are seen at 659.9 million tonnes in the 2016-17 season, down slightly from the previous month’s forecast.

(Reporting by Steve Scherer. Editing by Jane Merriman)

Rising prices mar prospects of economic revival in Egypt

Egyptian baker in Cairo

By Mohamed Abdellah

CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt’s efforts to relieve a crippling dollar shortage are pushing it towards a sickly combination of rising prices and lower growth, undermining hopes for economic revival after years of political upheaval.

Prices have soared since Egypt devalued its currency by 13 percent in mid-March to end speculation against the pound and ease a dollar shortage that has disrupted trade in a country that relies on imports of everything from food to fuel.

But the black market for dollars has since rebounded, putting Egypt back at square one: under pressure to devalue and spark a new round of price rises just as economic growth slows.

Affordable food is an explosive political issue in Egypt, where tens of millions live a paycheck from hunger and economic discontent has helped unseat two presidents in five years.

Living in a slum built on an abandoned refuse dump in Cairo, Mahmoud Abdallah describes the daily battle to make his family’s income stretch beyond beans and potatoes as core inflation hit a seven-year high above 12 percent in May.

“Fruit? What fruit?” the father of six asks with a bitter laugh. “It’s enough for us to look at fruit in the street.”

Importers say devaluation has made shipments more costly, while the hard currency shortage forces some to pay a premium on the black market where one dollar sells for about 11 pounds. The official rate is 8.8, but banks cannot meet demand.

In an effort to cut imports it blames for excessive dollar demand, Egypt increased customs duties this year. The idea is to nudge consumers toward locally-made substitutes, boosting Egyptian firms and encouraging exports.

But exports fell 13.9 percent in the first half of 2015-16, with manufacturers saying the dollar shortage made it harder to import raw materials. The devaluation means they pay more for those inputs too, so local produce is also more expensive.

“They want to make it more difficult to import things but they are also effectively risking engineering a recession,” said Timothy Kaldas, non-resident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy. “I don’t envy anyone having to deal with this situation because there are no good solutions.”

Abdallah has struggled to find regular work since the 2011 revolt that ended Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule and was propelled, in part, by anger over economic policies that appeared to benefit the rich and leave everyone else behind.

“The situation is below zero… Every time prices rise, we fall, others fall… the poor are lost,” he told Reuters.

CALLING IN THE ARMY

The dangers are not lost on President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who promised to revive the economy after taking power in 2013 and has called in the army to help keep a lid on prices.

Over the past year, army vans have begun roaming the country selling cheap groceries and military outlets have popped up.

“Air Defence Outlet. No to Higher Prices. No to Greedy Merchants,” reads a sign above one such store in Cairo.

Through its barred window, customers call out their orders.

The colonel who manages the shop says the goods are made by military companies primarily to feed troops, but are being sold to consumers to combat price rises he blamed on merchants.

But business people say they cannot offer the same prices as the military, which is exempt from tax and uses conscripts as free labor in its factories and farms.

By offering subsidized goods they cannot compete with, economists say the state is undermining the private sector and increasing reliance on subsidies the state cannot afford and should be scaling back.

“Look at the rise in the price of oil, butter and vegetables and you’ll know why we raised prices,” said Mohamed Abdel Rahman, a bakery owner.

COMPETING FOR CUSTOMERS

At a wagon selling cheap cuts of meat at an open food market in Cairo, a woman buys a bag of cow intestines. Another asks the price of a shin and walks away on hearing the answer.

At another stall, women pick through a pile of rotten tomatoes selling at a discount. A fresher batch, at twice the price, sits untouched.

The month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, is normally busy for food-sellers as families gather for the evening meal. This year, it is more subdued.

“We used to wait for this season,” said a butcher, who declined to give his name. “This was the season when people bought quantities and varieties. Now they just look and leave.”

As people cut back on spending, the slowdown could gather pace, say economists, spelling trouble for a government that needs faster growth to create jobs for a growing population.

Growth slowed to 4.5 percent in the first half of 2015-16 from 5.5 percent a year earlier, robust by Western standards but too slow, say experts, for a population that expanded by 1 million, to 91 million, in the last six months.

Yet rising inflation forced Egypt to hike interest rates by 1 percentage point last week to their highest levels in years.

That makes borrowing, and expansion, more expensive for private sector firms in a country where banks already prefer to invest in high-yield, low-risk government debt.

A plan to introduce Value Added Tax is in the works but has been delayed as policymakers fret over the political repercussions of another round of inflation.

The past two years have already seen the government slash electricity and petrol subsidies, though further cuts were delayed due to declining oil prices. In recent weeks, Egypt has raised price caps on the cheapest generic medicines.

The prospect of more price rises is a nightmare even for middle class Egyptians like civil servant Shadia Abdallah, whose husband is retired and two grown-up sons live at home.

“Our income is fixed but prices are rising,” she says.

Housing, medical care support U.S. underlying inflation

Job seekers at job fair

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. consumer prices moderated in May, but sustained increases in housing and healthcare costs kept underlying inflation supported, which could allow the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates this year.

While another report on Thursday showed an increase in the number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits last week, the trend remained consistent with a healthy labor market. The data came a day after the Fed downgraded its assessment of the jobs market and gave a mixed view of the economy.

The Labor Department said its Consumer Price Index increased 0.2 percent last month, slowing from April’s 0.4 percent rise. Gasoline prices rose modestly and the cost of food fell.

In the 12 months through May, the CPI gained 1.0 percent after advancing 1.1 percent in April.

Stripping out the volatile food and energy components, the so-called core CPI, increased 0.2 percent after a similar gain in April. That took the year-on-year core CPI rise to 2.2 percent from 2.1 percent in April.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the CPI gaining 0.3 percent last month and the core CPI rising 0.2 percent.

The Fed has a 2 percent inflation target and tracks an inflation measure which is currently at 1.6 percent. The U.S. central bank on Wednesday kept interest rates unchanged and said it expected inflation to remain below its target through 2017.

While the Fed signaled it still planned two rate hikes this year, there was less conviction, with six officials expecting only a single increase, up from one in March. The Fed raised its benchmark overnight interest rate in December for the first time in nearly a decade.

The dollar extended losses against the yen on the data, while prices for U.S. government debt were little changed.

FOOD PRICES FALL

Last month, gasoline prices rose 2.3 percent after surging 8.1 percent in April. Food prices fell 0.2 percent, reversing the prior month’s increase.

Within the core CPI basket, housing and medical costs maintained their upward trend. Owners’ equivalent rent of primary residence rose 0.3 percent after rising by the same margin in April.

Medical care costs increased 0.3 percent after a similar gain in April. The cost of hospital services shot up 0.7 percent after rising 0.3 percent the prior month. Doctor visit costs rose 1.0 percent, but the cost of prescription medicine fell 0.4 percent after increasing 0.7 percent in April.

Apparel prices rose 0.8 percent. The cost of used cars and trucks dropped 1.3 percent, the biggest fall since March 2009. Prices for new motor vehicles fell 0.1 percent.

In a second report, the Labor Department said initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 13,000 to a seasonally adjusted 277,000 for the week ended June 11.

The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, slipped 250 to 269,250 last week.

Jobless claims have now been below 300,000, a threshold associated with a strong job market, for 67 straight weeks, the longest streak since 1973. The Fed said on Wednesday “the pace of improvement in the labor market has slowed while growth in economic activity appears to have picked up.”

The U.S. central bank also noted that while the unemployment rate had declined, “job gains have diminished.”

But with job openings near record highs, both economists and Fed officials expect job growth to pick up after the economy added only 38,000 jobs in May, the smallest increase since September 2010.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

India’s wholesale prices rise for first time in 18 months in April

Stacks of rice

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s wholesale prices <INWPI=ECI> unexpectedly rose for the first time in 18 months, posting an annual gain of 0.34 percent, driven up by higher costs for food and manufactured items, government data showed on Monday.

The data compared with a 0.20 percent annual decline forecast by economists in a Reuters poll. In March, prices fell a provisional 0.85 percent.

Wholesale food prices last month rose 4.23 percent year-on-year, compared with a provisional 3.73 percent gain in March. Prices of manufactured goods increased 0.71 percent year on year in April.

Fuel prices dropped 4.83 percent from a year earlier in April, slower than a provisional 8.30 percent fall a month ago.

(Reporting by Rajesh Kumar Singh; Editing by Malini Menon)