The cost of living for Wasatch Front residents fell 0.5 percent in March, the fourth month in a row of declining inflation locally.

That's the good news Friday from First Security Corp.'s monthly Wasatch Front Cost of Living Report.The local 0.5 percent decline compared with a non-seasonally adjusted 0.1 percent increase reported Friday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The non-seasonally adjusted figure is the relevant one when making national vs. local comparisons as First Security's report is not seasonally adjusted.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, national consumer prices fell 0.1 percent last month for the first time in almost five years, a drop that analysts said should give the Federal Reserve leeway to push interest rates lower.

The Labor Department said the rare decline in its Consumer Price Index followed a 0.2 percent February rise and a 0.4 percent advance in January.

It was the first decline in the index since April 1986, when it fell 0.4 percent. The March drop was attributed to another steep fall in gasoline and other energy prices, which have now retreated 18 percent from their November peak.

Even more important to jittery financial markets was the fact that the so-called core rate of inflation, excluding the volatile energy and food sectors, was up only 0.1 percent in March following worrisome gains of 0.8 in January and 0.7 percent in February.

Locally, Kelly K. Matthews, First Security's chief economist, said Wasatch Front increases in the price of groceries were offset by declines in costs of clothing, transportation, restaurant food, health care and utilities. Housing expenses were stable for the month.

The Wasatch Front Inflation Index, measured from a base of 100 when the reports began in March, 1988, was at 104.0 last month, well below the 115.1 measured nationally from the same base month. Of that 4.0 percent increase locally over the three years, 1.7 percent of it has come in the past six months.

Here's how the various spending categories fared locally in March:

GROCERIES - Following two months of decreases, food prices rose 0.6 percent for the month. Price cuts for shelf items and alcoholic beverages were offset by increases in produce and meat. Since March, 1988, grocery prices locally have risen 18.4 percent with 1.5 percent coming in the past six months.

RESTAURANT FOOD - The cost of eating out broke a four-month upward trend by declining 1.5 percent in March. Chicken dishes were higher, but beef dishes declined for the second month. Since March 1988, overall prices are up 11.6 percent with 7.2 percent coming in the past six months.

UTILITIES - Residential utility bills declined 0.1 percent, continuing February's trend. Electric bills were down 0.7 percent after being stable for 11 months. Gas bills were stable after a month of decline.

CLOTHING - Local clothing costs were down 3.3 percent in March as price tags were lower across the board for women's, men's and children's apparel. Since the reports began, clothing costs have risen 6.4 percent locally, with 4.1 percent coming in the past six months.

TRANSPORTATION - Costs dropped 1.0 percent locally, spurred by a fourth consecutive month of lower gasoline prices. Transportation costs are up 3.1 percent since March 1988 but have decreased 18.4 percent over the past six months.

HOUSING - Local housing costs, measured by rents, were stable in March after increasing in February. Housing costs have increased 7.9 percent since March, 1988, with 4.3 percent coming in the past six months.

HEALTH CARE - After rising in January and February, local health-care costs declined 0.7 percent in March. Higher dental-care costs were offset by lower prices for non-prescription medicines, which had increased in the previous two months. Health-care costs are up 11.0 percent since March, 1988, with 3.2 percent of the increase in the past six months.


Cost of living index:

March 1991

Wasatch Front

Index Non-Seas Adj.

Mar 88=100 6 mos prior Mar.

All categories 104.0 -1.7% -0.5%

Housing 107.9 4.3% 0.0%

Transportation 103.1 -18.4% -1.0%

Health Care 111.0 3.2% -0.7%

Food at Home 118.4 1.5% 0.6%

Clothing 106.4 4.1% -3/3%

Food Away 111.6 7.2% -1.6%

Utilities 95.4 3.7% -0.1%

Other 102.4 -0.6% -0.2%


Index Non-Seas Adj. Seas Adj.

Mar 88=100 6 mos prior Mar. Mar. All categories 115.1 1.6% 0.1% -0.1%

Housing 113.1 1.7% 0.2% 0.1%

Transportation 113.8 -0.4% -1.1% -1.0%

Health Care 125.5 4.8% 0.7% 0.6%

Food at Home 117.5 2.3% 0.2% 0.2%

Clothing 116.4 1.7% 2.1% -1.2%

Food Away 112.9 1.4% 0.2% 0.2

Utilities 111.3 0.2% -0.5% -0.3%

Other 123.0 3.2% 0.3% 0.7%