Wholesale prices rose 0.2 percent in April after a winter of plunging energy costs pushed prices lower in each of the previous four months, the Labor Department said Friday.

The rise in the Producer Price Index followed declines of 0.3 percent in March and 0.6 percent in February that came on the heels of widespread declines in the prices of gasoline and oil.The underlying inflation rate, however, as measured by prices excluding volatile food and energy costs, actually rose 0.2 percent in the month - slightly more than what economists had expected.

But analysts said the unexpected rise was consistent with a decrease in the core inflation rate to about 2 percent annually, a drop of 2 percent over the 1988 inflation rate.

The Producer Price Index measures prices at the wholesale level before they reach consumers.

After four months of 3 percent to 5 percent gains in the index for finished energy goods, that benchmark dipped 0.3 percent in April.

Gasoline prices slowed their steep decline, falling just 0.7 percent in April after dropping a whopping 5.8 percent in March and posting even larger declines in each of the preceding three months.

Matching that change, the decline in prices for home heating oil slowed to 4.5 percent in April from 16.5 percent in March.

Food prices, meanwhile, were up 0.4 percent in the month, twice their gains in both March and February. The government said most of the increase came in a record surge in vegetable prices.

Intermediate goods - the in-between stage for raw materials such as crude oil - showed a 0.4 percent decline in April. And again, price declines slowed for energy goods after dropping sharply in each of the last four months. Crude materials fell 0.5 percent in April.