consumer prices-March

SEJONG, April 1 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's consumer prices increased at a slower pace in March, keeping its on-year growth in the 1-percent range for the fifth straight month, a government report showed Monday.

The country's consumer prices index rose 1.3 percent on-year in March, slowing from a 1.4 percent gain in the previous month, according to the report by Statistics Korea. From a month earlier, it dropped 0.2 percent.

The on-year figure represents the fifth straight month since November that the price growth has stayed in the 1-percent range. It is also the slowest growth since 1.2 percent in August.

However, the core inflation, which excludes volatile oil and food prices, rose 1.5 percent on-year in March, higher than the 1.3 percent rise tallied in the previous month, the report showed.

South Korea's inflation has remained subdued over the past year after soaring to about 4 percent throughout 2011. The government has placed its top priority on stabilizing prices amid worries that inflation could hurt the livelihoods of working-class people and the overall economy.

The so-called "livelihood price" index that measures the costs of key daily necessities inched up 0.8 percent on-year in March, unchanged from the previous month. The index has stayed below 1 percent for four straight months.

Prices of fresh food, including fruits and vegetables, also grew 1 percent last month. Fruit prices dropped 3.6 percent but vegetable prices jumped 7.6 percent over the same period, the report showed.

Factory product prices inched up 0.8 percent on-year in March, with the prices of oil-related products dropping 2.6 percent.

Electricity, tap water and heating gas costs, however, rose 6.1 percent last month. This is the sharpest on-year growth in seven months, indicating that high utility bills remain a drag on consumer prices.

The government is keeping an eye on price movements of such public service fees, among other things, as they are feared to disrupt the current stable price trend.

In a related move, the government recently said that it will require all state-invested firms providing public services to submit a report every year detailing their price-setting processes. The plan is aimed at reviewing whether prices of public services are appropriately determined.

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