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Consumer prices essentially flat

WASHINGTON — Lower gas costs offset more expensive food and higher rents to keep a measure of US consumer prices flat last month.

The Labor Department said Wednesday that food prices increased 0.2 percent in December from November. Rents and airfares also rose. Gasoline prices fell a seasonally adjusted 2.3 percent.

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The flat reading of the December consumer price index caps a year when inflation slowed. Consumer prices rose only 1.7 percent in 2012, down from 3 percent in 2011.

Food prices increased 1.8 percent last year, down from 4.7 percent in 2011. Gas prices rose just 1.7 percent last year. That followed annual gains of nearly 10 percent in 2011 and roughly 14 percent in 2010.

Excluding the volatile food and energy categories, core prices ticked up just 0.1 percent in December compared with November. And core prices rose only 1.9 percent in 2012.

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