WASHINGTON, March 9 (Reuters) - U.S. import price increases slowed in February on cheap fuel, but there were signs of a pickup in underlying imported inflation.
The Labor Department said on Thursday import prices rose 0.2 percent last month after an upwardly revised 0.6 percent increase in January. It was the third straight monthly increase.
In the 12 months through February, import prices accelerated 4.6 percent, the largest gain since February 2012, after rising 3.8 percent in January.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast import prices ticking up 0.1 percent last month after a previously reported 0.4 percent increase in January.
Last month's moderation in import prices is likely to be temporary amid strengthening global demand that is lifting prices for oil and other commodities.
Prices for imported fuels fell 0.7 percent last month after surging 7.2 percent in January. Import prices excluding fuels rose 0.3 percent. That was the first increase since July and followed a 0.1 percent dip the prior month.
The cost of imported food jumped 1.0 percent last month. Prices for imported capital goods were unchanged after slipping 0.1 percent in January. Imported consumer goods prices excluding automobiles increased 0.2 percent last month after a similar gain in January.
The report also showed export prices increased 0.3 percent in February after gaining 0.2 percent in January. Export prices were up 3.1 percent from a year ago. That was the biggest increase since December 2011 and followed a 2.4 percent rise in January.
Prices for agricultural exports increased 1.4 percent last month, boosted by rising vegetable prices, as well as higher prices for soybeans and corn. Agricultural export prices rose 0.1 percent in January.
(Reporting By Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)