Posted Online: March 15, 2013, 5:58 pm

Consumer prices jump 0.7% in February, biggest rise since 2009

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WASHINGTON — Fueled by the rising cost of gasoline, consumer prices jumped 0.7 percent in February for the biggest increase in more than three years, the Labor Department said Friday.

The sharp rise in consumer costs last month, which exceeded analyst expectations, could stoke inflation concerns as economic growth strengthens.

Prices now have risen 2 percent over the past year, the target the Federal Reserve has set for an acceptable inflation rate. Prices were up 1.6 percent in the previous 12-month period.

If prices were to start rising faster, the Fed would have to consider pulling back on its stimulus efforts out of concern that they were helping trigger higher costs.

Gas prices were the main culprit in February's jump. Prices at the pump were up a seasonally adjusted 9.1 percent, the most since June 2009.

That also was the last time overall consumer prices exceeded February's increase.

So-called core inflation — which excludes volatile energy and food prices — rose a more modest 0.2 percent in February. The figure was in line with analyst expectations and an improvement from the 0.3 percent increase in January.

But core inflation also is up 2 percent year over year.

The jump in gas prices accounted for almost three-quarters of February's increase in overall consumer costs. Food prices were up just 0.1 percent in February.