Compared to February, prices rose 1.2 per cent, in line with analysts' forecasts, but "core" prices, which exclude volatile food and energy sectors, rose 0.3 per cent rise, less than expected.

"The Russia-Ukraine war has added further fuel to the blazing rate of inflation via higher energy, food, and commodity prices that are turbo charged by a worsening in supply chain problems," Kathy Bostjancic of Oxford Economics said.

The potency of the ongoing price jumps bolstered the case that the Federal Reserve will take aggressive action at its policy meeting next month, likely raising the key lending rate by half a per centage point as opposed to the quarter-point increase last month.

"With labor shortages pressuring firms to raise wages, we are in the midst of a wage-price inflation cycle that will require extreme action on the part of the Fed to rid the economy of the spreading inflation threat," economist Joel Naroff said.

Real pain

A collision of factors has fuelled the inflation surge, including business' struggles to find enough workers and supplies, the Fed's low interest rate policies, and congressionally approved stimulus measures that drove up demand among American consumers.

In response, the White House has scrambled to offer relief, including by releasing strategic oil supplies to lower prices at the pump and waiving a prohibition on selling a lower-price gasoline blend during the summer months, which Biden promoted during his visit to Iowa.

But the most potent actor in Washington against inflation is the Fed.

Though rate hikes are expected to lower prices in the months to come, central bank Governor Lael Brainard said Tuesday that the fallout from the war in Ukraine "probably skews risks to the upside in inflation."

A new pandemic lockdown in China also "has the potential to lengthen out some of those constraints that we've seen in supply chains," Brainard said in a discussion following the data's release.

The Labor Department data showed Americans are facing real financial pain when they go to purchase must-have items.

Prices for shelter, the category including rents, rose 0.5 per cent, while food prices rose one per cent overall.

Prices for groceries were up 1.5 per cent in the month, and 10 per cent over the past year -- the largest such increase since March 1981, according to the data.

Used cars reverse

However, prices for used cars, which were one of the first items to surge last year, declined 3.8 per cent last month, pushing core CPI lower. New car prices rose only 0.2 per cent after seeing monthly gains of more than one per cent in the latter months of 2021.

But considering how high prices have risen for other categories, Naroff said some on the Fed's policy setting committee may advocate for an even more forceful 0.75 point rate increase next month -- and that would not necessarily bring prices down quickly.

"The ability of any Fed to sharply raise rates to slow extremely high inflation, while not driving the economy into a recession, is limited, especially given factors such as war that are out of its control," he said in a note.

"We are talking about art here, not science, and there is little history of this Fed painting pretty pictures."

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