U.S. consumer prices rose last month by the most since June, driven up by higher gas prices, but excluding energy, inflation was tame.
The Labor Department said Thursday that the consumer price index rose a seasonally adjusted 0.3 percent in December, after a flat reading the previous month.
Gas prices jumped 3.1 percent in December, the biggest gain since June. Food prices ticked up 0.1 percent, pushed up by higher restaurant costs.
Grocery prices were flat, held down by the biggest drop in fruit and vegetable prices in five years. Car prices were flat and airline fares plummeted 4.7 percent, the most in 14 years. Those declines were offset by a big increase in clothing costs, and rents also rose.
Weekly jobless claims drop
The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell 2,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 326,000.
The Labor Department said Thursday that the less volatile four-week average dropped 13,500 to 335,000.
More than 4.7 million Americans collected benefits at the end of last year. The figure has declined almost 1.2 million over the past 12 months.
But that number is poised to drop by an additional 1.35 million in coming weeks. That's because a special federal program that provided up to 47 extra weeks of unemployment benefits expired last month.
Many former recipients will give up on job searches, which are required in order to receive benefits. Applications appear to have stabilized near pre-recession levels, a positive sign for hiring going forward.
Mortgage rates dip
Average U.S. rates for fixed mortgages declined this week, edging closer to historically low levels.
Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average for the 30-year loan fell to 4.41percent from 4.51 percent last week. The average for the 15-year loan eased to 3.45 percent from 3.56 percent.
Mortgage rates have risen about a full percentage point since hitting record lows a year ago.
— From wire reports