WASHINGTON — The producer price index rose 0.7% in March, more than economists estimated, as the 12-month change in producer prices increased 6.0%, the largest gain in 18 months, the Labor Department reported yesterday.

Core prices, which exclude food and energy costs, increased 0.1%. Core prices increased 0.1% in February. For the year ending in March, core prices increased 0.9%.

Economists expected producer prices to increase 0.4% and for core prices to increase 0.1%, according to the median estimate from Thomson Reuters.

Producer prices fell 0.6% in February, the first decline for the index since September, and producer prices rose 1.4% in January.

The 6.0% gain in producer prices for the 12-month period ending in March was the largest increase since September 2008, when the annual gain was 8.8%.

Consumer food prices increased 2.4%, which contributed to 70% of the increase in producer prices.

Finished energy prices gained 0.7% in March after falling 2.9% in February.

Crude petroleum prices increased 12.1%.

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