Wholesale prices rose sharply in February for the second consecutive month, the government reported yesterday, intensifying inflationary pressures and further eroding the Carter administration's wage-price guidelines program.
The 1 percent jump in February, led by new increases in food and fuel prices, follows a troubling 1.3 percent rise in January and means there may be no relief for at least several months.
The February figures, which amount to an annual rate of 12.7 percent, sent shivers through the administration, which is struggling to hold its anti-inflation program together in the face of mounting demands by labor to slow the price spiral.
Presidential inflation adviser Alfred E. Kahn, conceding it now "is apparent" that many firms "are not complying with" the price guidelines, stepped up the administration's rhetorical campaign by announcing that his office soon will begin to name publicly companies that violate the standards.
And wage-price council director Barry Bosworth, in his most pessimistic assessment yet, conceded that the administration's new program may be headed for the junk heap unless it shows significant progress by this summer.
In one of the first concrete signals that the government now believes the economy has overheated, four federal agencies yesterday took action to limit severely the amount of money available for home mortgages. The agencies -- led by the Federal Reserve Board -- reduced the amount of interest that can be paid on the popular six-month money market certificates and ruled interest payments on the certificates could no longer be compounded. (Details on Page F 1.)
The flurry of statements by wageprice program officials marked their second effort in two days to take a more activist stance. Kahn told Congress Wednesday he is considering new moves to dampen food prices.
Yesterday's report was especially significant, not only because it bolstered January's figures but also because it came at a critical juncture in the ongoing negotiations between the Teamsters union and the trucking industry.
The White House is trying to pressure the Teamsters into holding their wage demands within the 7 percent pay guideline. All sides concede if the Teamsters breach the guidelines sharply, it could kill the entire program.
Carter predicted as late as January that inflation would slow to 7.5 percent this year, down from 9 percent in 1978. However, many private economists now are forecasting the price rise will reach 8.5 to 9 percent.
As in the case of the January wholesale price index, much of the increase again was concentrated in farm and fuel prices. Producer prices of consumer foods shot up 1.6 percent. Wholesale gasoline prices rose 2.2 percent.
Wholesale prices of beef and veal rose 4.7 percent in February, following a staggering 22.7 percent rise in January.And vegetable prices jumped 12.2 percent while fruit prices rose 9.2 percent. Both had increased rapidly in January.
However, prices of other finished goods, which some economists consider an even better barometer than food prices, rose 0.9 percent -- an increase almost as sharp as January's 1.1 percent leap.
There also was bad news about the inflation picture in coming months. Prices of goods at the intermediate stage of the production process soared 1.1 percent last month, and crude materials prices leaped 3.3 percent.
The Labor Department said much of the increase in crude materials prices stemmed from a new rise in prices of grains and cane sugar and a big jump in copper prices, reflecting the current shortage.
Yesterday's increase brought the overall producer price index 10 percent above its level of a year ago. The index now stands at 207.4 percent of its 1967 average -- meaning it takes $207.40 to buy what cost $100 12 years ago.