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Cheaper gas sends U.S. consumer prices down 0.1 percent

| Friday, Jan. 11, 2019, 8:45 a.m.
FILE- In this Nov. 16, 2018, file photo the price of gas is displayed at a pump in West Mifflin, Pa. On Friday, Jan. 11, 2019, the Labor Department reports on U.S. consumer prices for December.  (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)
FILE- In this Nov. 16, 2018, file photo the price of gas is displayed at a pump in West Mifflin, Pa. On Friday, Jan. 11, 2019, the Labor Department reports on U.S. consumer prices for December. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)
FILE- In this Nov. 16, 2018, file photo, sale prices hang from a shelf in the board game section at a Target store in Bridgewater, N.J. On Friday, Jan. 11, 2019, the Labor Department reports on U.S. consumer prices for December. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)
FILE- In this Nov. 16, 2018, file photo, sale prices hang from a shelf in the board game section at a Target store in Bridgewater, N.J. On Friday, Jan. 11, 2019, the Labor Department reports on U.S. consumer prices for December. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)
FILE- In this Nov. 9, 2018, file photo toys are displayed at a Walmart Supercenter in Houston. On Friday, Jan. 11, 2019, the Labor Department reports on U.S. consumer prices for December. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)
FILE- In this Nov. 9, 2018, file photo toys are displayed at a Walmart Supercenter in Houston. On Friday, Jan. 11, 2019, the Labor Department reports on U.S. consumer prices for December. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

WASHINGTON — Consumer prices slipped 0.1 percent last month, pulled down by sharply lower gas prices and cheaper air fares, used cars, and mobile phone plans.

The Labor Department said the consumer price index rose just 1.9 percent in December from a year earlier, the first time it has fallen below 2 percent since August 2017.

Excluding the volatile energy and food categories, core prices rose 0.2 percent for the third month in a row. They rose 2.2 percent from a year ago for the second straight month.

The figures suggest that the healthy economy is not yet creating widespread inflation pressures. That gives the Federal Reserve more leeway in deciding whether to raise interest rates. Fed Chair Jerome Powell has said the Fed can be “patient” regarding rate hikes this year.

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