For the second consecutive month, consumer prices went down in February for Wasatch Front residents while inflation went the other direction for the nation overall.
According to First Security Corp.'s monthly Wasatch Front Cost of Living Report, the 0.7 percent decrease in prices last month compared with a non-seasonally adjusted increase of 0.4 percent nationally.If the local figures were "annualized," said First Security economist Kelly K. Matthews, they would show the local cost of living had dropped 8.3 percent.
Using an inflation index beginning at 100 when First Security began issuing the report in March 1988 the Wasatch Front index would be 98.1 compared with 104.6 nationally, a significant difference in local cost trends vs. national prices.
National economists said the report on consumer prices showed that while inflation will be higher this year, the country is not in danger of entering another inflationary spiral.
"There is evidence that the jump in food prices resulting from last year's drought is now tapering off and energy prices are unlikely to go higher," said Jerry Jasinowski, chief economist for the National Association of Manufacturers. "Fears of inflation accelerating out of control appear to be premature."
Glenn Forman, an economist for the WEFA Group, an economic consulting firm, said retail prices will be climbing higher in coming months as the increases at the wholesale level flow through to consumers.
The First Security study, meanwhile, shows that while local food costs - both groceries and restaurant food - went up in February, they were offset by decreases in transportation, health care, utilities, clothing and housing.
For the past 12 months, the report shows local overall costs decreasing 1.9 percent.
The rise in local grocery costs - up 3.6 percent - was the third consecutive month of increases, while nationwide grocery costs rose only 0.7 percent. Decreases in prices of produce were countered by price hikes for shelf items, meat and alcoholic beverages. For the past year, Wasatch Front food costs have risen 10.3 percent compared with a 6.9 percent rise nationwide.
The grocery price hikes locally were led by eggs, which rose 15.4 percent in price, and pork, which shot up 13.0 percent. Overall meat prices rose 3.0 percent. Prices of salad dressings were up 13.3 percent, peanut butter 4.9 percent, mustard 4.4 percent and sugar 2.7 percent.
Produce prices were down 8.7 percent overall, led by tomatoes, which decreased 25.0 percent and lettuce, down 19.0 percent. Carrots increased 17.2 percent and potatoes 7.4 percent.
The cost of eating out also rose locally in February - up 2.6 percent - with higher prices for beef main dishes taking the blame. For the past 12 months, the cost of eating out locally has increased 1.4 percent compared with 4.3 percent nationally.
All other local categories measured in the price index declined in February, led by local transportation costs, which fell 5.4 percent during the month after logging two months of increases. Decreases in insurance premiums and vehicle maintenance costs are credited, as are slightly lower gasoline prices.
For the year, local transportation costs are down 7.8 percent compared with a national increase of 4.5 percent.
And for the fourth consecutive month, Wasatch Front residents paid less for health care in February - a 1.8 percent drop compared with a 1.0 percent increase nationally. For the year, local health-care costs are down 7.8 percent compared with a 4.5 percent increase nationwide.
Local residential utility bills also were down in February, 1.1 percent. For the year, utility costs locally have declined 3.0 percent compared with a national increase of 6.1 percent.
Local clothing costs were lower last month, 0.3 percent, while nationally, prices were unchanged. For the year, local clothing costs are down 5.6 percent. Nationwide, they are 4.7 percent higher than a year ago.
Wasatch Front housing costs - based solely on rental rates in the First Security study - dropped 0.3 percent last month. For the year, housing costs are down 3.6 percent compared with a 3.7 percent increase nationally.