Cheaper energy kept U.S. consumer prices in check last month, despite a big rise in the cost of food, the latest sign that inflation is tame. The consumer price index rose 0.1 percent in February, matching January’s increase, the Labor Department said Tuesday. In the past 12 months, prices have risen just 1.1 percent. Energy prices fell 0.5 percent because lower gasoline and electricity costs offset higher prices for natural gas and heating oil. Still, consumers took a hit at the grocery store as food costs rose 0.4 percent, the most in nearly 2½ years. Beef prices jumped 4 percent in February, the most in more than 10 years, as droughts have pushed up cattle feed prices.
Building permits may be hint of housing rebound
U.S. home construction fell for a third month in February, but in a hopeful sign, applications for building permits rose 7.7 percent to their highest level in four months. Builders started work on 907,000 homes at a seasonally adjusted annual rate in February, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. That was down a slight 0.2 percent from January, when construction had fallen 11.2 percent. The declines have been blamed largely on severe winter weather.
Equipment rental to be separate Hertz business
Hertz plans to spin off its equipment rental business into a separate publicly traded company. The car rental company says it will receive about $2.5 billion in net proceeds and plans to use it to pay down debt and to support a new $1 billion stock buyback. Hertz also reported a smaller loss for the fourth quarter. The new business will be called Hertz Equipment Rental Corp.
Walmart to expand video game trade-ins
Walmart plans to expand its video game trade-in program, offering store credit for thousands of video games. The world’s largest retailer plans to let video game owners trade in used video games online and in Walmart and Sam’s Club stores for store credit but not cash. Previously they offered trade-ins on a more limited basis online.