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Last Updated: Tuesday, 19 September 2006, 15:02 GMT 16:02 UK
New signs of cooling US economy
Rolling aluminium at an Alcoa plant in the US
Energy costs are showing signs of easing
US producer prices rose by just 0.1% last month as the amount spent by businesses on energy moderated after recent sharp price rises.

Wholesale energy prices rose just 0.3% in August, following July's 1.3% jump, while gasoline prices fell 2.2%.

Separate data published on Tuesday showed a 6% fall in house construction.

Experts believe these figures, on top of recent data showing a small fall in consumer inflation, will persuade the Federal Reserve to hold interest rates.

Rate decision

The interest rate setting body meets on Wednesday with most experts believing it will keep rates at 5.25% for the second meeting in a row.

The Fed is worried about containing inflationary pressures. However, it is also keen to avoid pushing the cooling housing market into a downturn.

It does make it much more likely that they [The Federal Reserve] will stay paused thereafter if the housing sector is this weak
Greg Anderson, ABN Amro

The 0.1% rise in producer prices was lower than analysts' expectations of a 0.2% increase, and once energy and food costs are stripped out, core prices actually fell 0.4%.

Following July's 0.3% fall in core producer prices, this marked the first back-to-back monthly decline since 2003.

The fall in new home starts was larger than expected and follows recent monthly drops in sales of both new and previously owned homes.

Analysts said the decline may signal that the previously buoyant housing market has come back down to earth as two years of successive rate rises - which only came to an end last month - have stretched individual and family budgets.

"It's shockingly weak housing data," Greg Anderson, a senior currency strategist at investment bank ABN Amro, said of the latest figures.

"We knew the Fed was going to pause on Wednesday. It does make it much more likely that they will stay paused thereafter if the housing sector is this weak."

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