WASHINGTON — Consumer prices fell in April for the first time in 13 months, giving the Federal Reserve more room to keep interest rates at historic lows to aid the economy.
The 0.1 percent decrease in overall prices last month was pulled down by gas prices.
Core inflation, which excludes volatile food and energy prices, was flat in April, according to the Labor Department report Wednesday. Over the past 12 months, core inflation has risen just 0.9 percent — the smallest increase in 44 years.
Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisors, said stable prices have allowed consumers to spend more freely despite slow growth in income and high unemployment. He said most businesses are "dealing with a sluggish economy, and that means they have very little pricing power."
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Among the components of the price index:
■ Energy prices fell 1.4 percent, the biggest one-month decline since March 2009.
Gasoline prices dropped 2.4 percent. Analysts said they expect further declines in coming months as crude oil prices are down nearly 20 percent since April.
■ Food costs rose 0.2 percent, the same modest increase posted in March. Economists had expected a bigger increase because of a winter freeze on Florida vegetable and citrus crops.
■ Airline tickets rose by 2.2 percent, one of the few areas to show price pressures last month.