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WHOLESALE PRICES ROSE A MERE .4 PERCENT DURING APRIL

Wholesale prices rose a moderate 0.4 percent in April, despite the sharpest rise in energy costs in nearly 2 1/2 years, the government said Friday.

The rise in the Labor Department's Producer Price Index reflected a steep jump in gasoline prices, counterbalanced by a substantial drop in auto prices and broad declines in food costs.It followed an identical 0.4 percent gain in March and large, back-to-back 1 percent jumps in January and February.

Because of the steep rises early in the year, wholesale price inflation, one stop short of retail, advanced at a 9 percent annual rate in the first four months.

The April report is likely to cheer financial markets, where traders were braced for a much worse number, in the neighborhood of 0.7 percent.