Consumer prices rose 0.6 percent in November, the largest monthly rise in almost two years, as food and energy prices continued to climb, the Labor Department reported yesterday.
The November rise in the consumer price index followed a 0.3 percent increase in October, bringing inflation so far this year to a 3.6 percent pace, the lowest rate since 1972. Consumer prices rose 4 percent during 1984.
Economists said they were not concerned about the rise in meat and fuel prices, which have risen little all year. Oil prices are expected to weaken as the disarray within the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries continues to have a deflationary effect on oil prices.
It still appears that 1985 will be the fourth consecutive year of consumer price inflation at 4 percent or less.
However, many economists expect prices to accelerate slightly next year as the decline in the value of the dollar leads to higher prices for imports and reduces pressures on domestic producers to keep their price increases low.
Washington-area consumer prices rose 1 percent during the last two months, with increases in all major categories of consumer spending, especially housing and transportation, the Labor Department said yesterday.
The rise in October and November followed local price increases of 0.1 percent in the preceding two-month period. Over the 12-month period that ended in November, Washington-area prices rose 3.7 percent.
The local consumer price index, which is calculated every other month, now stands at 326.9, which means that a list of items that cost $10 in 1967 would now cost $32.69.
During the October-November period, local housing prices rose 0.9 percent, largely due to increases in shelter costs. Area transportation costs rose 1.3 percent in the last two months, reflecting higher costs of automobile insurance, new cars, maintenance and repairs and tires.
While grocery store food prices in the area rose a moderate 0.3 percent, prices of food consumed away from home rose 1.2 percent and alcoholic beverages rose 4.1 percent.
The pace of inflation in the nation has accelerated in the last three months, with consumer prices increasing at a 4.3 percent rate since September, compared with a 2.4 percent rate from June through August, Labor said.
"You have to look at it without energy and food," said Lea Tyler of Chase Econometrics. "If you take them out, things are pretty much in line with what they've been in the last few months."
"Food, that could be more of a problem" than the increases in fuel, Tyler said. "There is room for food prices to continue to rise at a fairly moderate clip" because they stayed so low most of the year.
Most of the increase last month was in meat prices due largely to the intentional shrinking of herds earlier this year, economists said.
Gasoline prices shot up 1.4 percent in November, following declines in the previous four months. Gasoline prices were 2.1 percent above their level at the end of last year, but 12.3 percent below their peak price in March 1981, Labor said.
Fuel oil prices also jumped a sharp 4.6 percent last month, following increases of 1.6 percent and 2.4 percent in the previous two months.
Economists blamed the rise in fuel oil prices on the early advent of severe winter weather across the country, which suddenly increased the demand for fuels.
Fuel oil prices last month were still 9.8 percent below their peak in April 1981, Labor said. Natural gas prices dropped 1.4 percent, and electricity costs fell 0.2 percent in November.
Although beef prices have risen 6.3 percent in the past three months, they were still 2 percent below levels at the end of last year, Labor said.
Excluding food and energy, the consumer price index increased 0.4 percent in November compared with a 0.5 percent increase in October, and was slightly above the average for the past 12 months.
The consumer price index in November was 326.6. Another measure, the CPI for urban wage and clerical workers, was 322.6 in November. This measure is often used in calculating cost-of-living increases in labor agreements and for Social Security and other federal benefit programs.
Food and beverage costs rose 0.7 percent, following a 0.4 percent rise in October. So far this year, food and beverage prices have risen 2.2 percent.
Grocery store food prices nationally increased 0.9 percent, following a 0.2 percent increase in October.
Meats, poultry, fish and egg prices increased 2.3 percent in November and accounted for four-fifths of the November rise in grocery food costs, according to the Labor Department. Although pork prices are below their level at the end of last year, poultry prices have risen 1.4 percent in the last 11 months, Labor said.
A sharp increase in fresh vegetable prices drove the index for fruits and vegetables up 0.8 percent last month.
Used-car prices stabilized last month following seven consecutive monthly declines in which prices fell 6.4 percent, the Labor Department said. Automobile finance charges rose 5.4 percent during the past two months as manufacturers eliminated their reduced-rate financing incentives. Still, auto finance charges last month were 7.5 percent below the level at the end of last year.
The November rise was the largest since the index rose 0.6 percent in January 1984, the Labor Department said. The most recent increase larger than 0.6 percent was a 0.7 percent increase in April 1983.