The consumer price index rose a mild 0.2% in February after a worrisome 0.5% increase in the first month of the year. The cost of housing rose and the price of clothes and auto insurance posted surprisingly large gains for the second month in a row.
Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had forecast a 0.2% advance.
The increase in the CPI over the past 12 months edged up to 2.2% from 2.1%.
After stripping out gas and food, the more closely followed core rate of inflation also rose 0.2% last month. The 12-month rate of core inflation was unchanged at 1.8% for the third month in a row.
Inflation-adjusted U.S. hourly wages were flat in February. They’ve risen just 0.4% in the past year.
The rise in the cost of living last month was largely the result of higher rent and home prices.
Auto insurance was another big expense. The cost jumped 1.7% in February after a 1.3% move in the prior month.
The cost of clothes rose 1.5%, meanwhile, to follow up a 1.7% spike in January, a surprising turn after months of flat or declining prices.
Economists had expected auto insurance and apparel prices to level off.
Helping to keep inflation in check was a 0.5% drop in the cost of new cars and trucks, the biggest decline since 2009. Prices for telecommunications service such as wireless also fell sharply.
The cost of food was unchanged and energy prices rose just 0.1%.