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/ Source: Reuters

Prices for food, rent and other essentials rose in March, but inflation pressures remained generally benign, which should give the Federal Reserve ample scope to keep interest rates low.

The Labor Department said on Tuesday its Consumer Price Index increased 0.2 percent last month as a rise in food and shelter costs offset a decline in gasoline prices. The CPI index had gained 0.1 percent in February.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected a 0.1 percent rise last month. In the 12 months through March, consumer prices increased 1.5 percent after rising 1.1 percent over the 12 months through February.

A.J. Wynne loads groceries onto the belt as his mother Becky Wynne holds baby Henry at a Giant store in Silver Spring, Md. Food and rent prices increased last month, offsetting lower gasoline prices, the Labor Department says.Jacquelyn Martin / ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Fed targets 2 percent inflation and it tracks an index that is running even lower than the CPI. The rise last month could ease concerns among some policymakers about inflation being too low.

In March, food prices increased 0.4 percent after rising by the same margin in February. A drought in the West has pushed up prices for meat, dairy, fruit and vegetables.

More price increases could be on the way after food prices at the factory gate posted their biggest gain in 10 months in March. Gasoline prices fell 1.7 percent, declining for a third straight month.

Within the core CPI, shelter costs increased 0.3 percent, which accounted for almost two-thirds of the rise in the index. Rents increased 0.3 percent.

- Reuters