Inflation at the wholesale level retreated in February for the first time in eight months as milder weather curbed heating costs. First-time claims for jobless benefits also fell, the latest suggestion of an improving economy.
The Producer Price Index for finished goods was down a seasonally adjusted 0.2 percent, the first decline since an identical drop last June, the Labor Department reported Thursday. The largest previous drop was 0.4 percent in October 1994.
Energy costs, which had shot up 6.4 percent during December and January because of the severe weather, tumbled 0.7 percent in February.
Food prices fell 0.3 percent, the second straight decline. And excluding the volatile food and energy components, the core index crept up a barely perceptible 0.1 percent.
In another report, the Labor Department said Thursday that new applications for unemployment insurance dropped by 10,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 353,000.