Led by continued steep declines in energy costs, prices paid to producers such as factories and food-processing plants fell for the fourth straight month in February.

The 0.1 percent decline in the Producer Price Index came on top of a 0.7 percent plunge in January, the biggest one-month drop in more than four years, the Labor Department said Friday.February marked the 12th month in 14 that the index has declined or remained unchanged. Over the past 12 months, it's fallen 1.6 percent.

The price drop for finished goods purchased by wholesalers, combined with moderate price increases for services, has translated into near price stability for American consumers.

And that, along with moderate wage hikes, has created the biggest gains in purchasing power in two decades and allowed the Federal Reserve to keep interest rates low.

The Fed is also counting on slower economic growth to keep prices from getting out of hand this year. In a sign of that, the Commerce Department said inventories at the nation's businesses remained unchanged in January while sales fell 0.1 percent.