Spurred by the largest jump in housing costs in three years, the overall cost of living for Wasatch Front residents moved up 0.1 percent in February, First Security Bank reported Thursday.

"February housing costs increased by 1.9 percent last month," said Kelly K. Matthews, executive vice president and chief economist for the bank, which tracks local consumer prices. "That's the largest increase since September 1994, when housing costs rose 4.2 percent."The housing component of the bank's index measures rent rates, not the price of homes.

Nationally, plummeting energy prices held consumer inflation to 0.2 percent on a nonseasonally adjusted basis (as is the local report) in February, but America's trade deficit soared in January despite a plunge in the cost of imported oil. Seasonally adjusted, the figure most watched by national economists, the increase was a tiny 0.1 percent.

The barely noticeable February advance in the Consumer Price Index followed no change in January, the first month in four years without an increase, the Labor Department said. That means inflation has virtually disappeared so far this year after sinking in 1997 to 1.7 percent, the lowest rate since the bust in oil prices in 1986.

Energy prices fell 2.2 percent nationally in February on top of January's 2.4 percent decline, the steepest in seven years. The price of gasoline dropped 3.4 percent at the pump last month and has fallen 10.8 percent in the past five months. That sent the price 21.3 percent lower than its November 1990 peak during the Persian Gulf War.

Locally, the First Security report found that declining costs for transportation, groceries and restaurant food offset increases in housing and clothing. Health care and utility costs were stable in February.

Since the bank began tracking local costs 10 years ago this month, consumer prices along the Wasatch Front have risen 34.2 percent, 4.7 points below the 38.9 percent rise nationally over the same period.

Here are how the various spending categories fared locally in February:

GROCERIES - Prices were lower for the second consecutive month in Wasatch Front stores. Increases in produce and shelf items were offset by lower meat prices. Nationally, grocery prices moved down 0.6 percent last month.

TRANSPORTATION - Costs declined 2.7 percent, spurred by the sixth month in a row of declining gasoline prices. Nationally, costs decreased 1.0 percent.

UTILITIES - Residential utility bills were stable in February but moved down 1.1 percent nationwide.

CLOTHING - Price tags were 0.5 percent higher in February. Nationally, prices fell 1.6 percent.

RESTAURANT FOOD - The cost of eating out along the Wasatch Front declined 0.1 percent last month, compared to a 0.3 percent increase nationwide.

HEALTH CARE - Local expenses were stable last month, continuing the January trend. Nationally, a 0.5 percent increase was measured.

HOUSING - Costs were up 0.3 percent following a stable January. Over the past six months, local housing costs have risen 0.8 percent over the same period a year earlier.

MISCELLANEOUS - Expenses were unchanged, compared with a 0.8 percent increase nationwide.

*****

Additional Information

Cost of living index

WASATCH FRONT

Index %Change (Non Seas.Adj)

Mar. 1988=100 6 mos. 1 mo

prior prior

All categories 134.2 1.4 0.1

Housing 170.8 0.8 1.9

Transportation 113.5 -1.0 -2.7

Health Care 140.4 1.2 0.0

Food at Home 143.7 4.3 -0.1

Clothing 120.4 0.1 0.5

Food Away 146.4 3.0 -0.1

Utilities 94.6 1.2 0.0

Other 129.0 4.3 0.0

NATIONAL

Index %Change (Non Seas.Adj) (Seas.Adj.)

Mar. 1988=100 6 mos.* 1 mo 1 mo.

prior prior prior

All Categories 138.9 1.8 0.2 0.1

Housing 135.6 2.2 0.3 0.1

Transportation 134.1 -0.4 -0.4 -0.4

Health Care 175.7 2.7 0.5 0.3

Food at Home 140.7 1.5 -0.6 -0.1

Clothing 115.3 0.7 -1.6 0.2

Food Away 132.2 2.0 0.3 0.3

Utilities 131.0 1.6 -1.1 -0.9

Other 173.4 5.2 0.8 0.8

* Last six-month percentage change compared with same period one year ago.

Courtesy of First Security Bank