Food prices nudge upwards in December

Food prices rose 0.2 percent in December, Statistics New Zealand said today.

Fruit and vegetable prices were up 2.5 percent, while meat, poultry, and fish prices rose 1.2 percent.

Non-alcoholic beverages fell 2.5 percent in December.

Vegetable prices were up, with potatoes and apples up 14 percent and pumpkin prices soared 75 percent due to a supply shortage.

Strawberries recorded seasonally lower prices - down 21 percent for the month. However, they were up 25 percent on a year earlier.

The rise in meat, poultry, and fish prices reflected less discounting for fresh chicken pieces - up 3.9 percent- and sausages up 6.2 percent.

The fall in non-alcoholic beverage prices resulted from lower prices for soft drinks, where prices fell 2.3 percent, and fruit juice which was down 5.9 percent.

"Soft drink prices usually fall in December, with more discounting leading up to the Christmas break,'' said Statistics NZ prices manager Chris Pike.

For the year to December 2011, food prices were up 2.9 percent, compared with 1.9 percent for the year to November 2011.

Four of the five food subgroups had price increases in the year to December 2011: grocery food -up 3.5 percent-meat, poultry, and fish up 3.7 percent, restaurant meals and ready- to- eat food up 2.4 percent, and non-alcoholic beverages up 4.4 percent.

The fruit and vegetables subgroup was down 0.9 percent.

Today's food price index comes as economists believe New Zealand inflation may have stayed relatively benign as a strong kiwi dollar provided a check on imported prices, while food prices weakened, giving the central bank little urgency to raise interest rates.

The Consumers Price Index held at 0.4 percent in the final three months of 2011, while the annual pace slowed to 2.6 percent from 4.6 percent, according to a Reuters survey, as the effect of the hike in goods and services tax in October 2010 rolls out of the numbers.

Fourth-quarter CPI figures are scheduled for release on Thursday, a week before the Reserve Bank releases its latest assessment of interest rates which is widely expected to signal no change from the record low 2.5 percent official cash rate and no sense of urgency for any hikes. Governor Alan Bollard cited the "unusual degree of uncertainty'' to the global outlook and moderate demand at home when he kept rates unchanged last month.

"Inflation indicators suggest the RBNZ has breathing space on the inflation front,'' said Nick Tuffley, chief economist at ASB, in a note.

"We expect it to remain on hold until the end of this year.''


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