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Inflation Held At Bay

Consumer prices barely budged last month, rising just 0.1 percent despite a few scattered trouble spots such as meat, oranges, and airline fares.

February marked the third consecutive monthly rise of that tiny magnitude in the Consumer Price Index, the Labor Department said Thursday. And it left the seasonally adjusted inflation rate for the first two months of the year at just 1.1 percent, compared with a 12-year low of 1.6 percent for all of 1998.

The report confirms anecdotal evidence, released Wednesday in the Federal Reserve's "beige book" survey of regional economic conditions, showing "prices of most goods remained little changed" so far this year.

And it means monetary policy-makers probably will feel comfortable leaving short-term interest rates unchanged when they meet next on March 30.

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