SEOUL, April 2 (Xinhua) -- South Korea's headline inflation stayed below 1 percent for three straight months through March on lower prices for oil product and vegetable, a government report showed Tuesday.
The consumer price index stood at 104.49 in March, up 0.4 percent from a year earlier, according to Statistics Korea. It was the lowest increase in 32 months since July 2016.
After peaking at 2.0 percent in November last year, the consumer price inflation continued to slow from 1.3 percent in December to 0.8 percent in January and 0.5 percent in February each.
As the inflation hovered below 1 percent for three months to March, it was 0.5 percent in the January-March quarter, posting the lowest quarterly inflation since 1965.
Amidst the low inflation, pressure weakened on the Bank of Korea (BOK) to raise its benchmark interest rate, which was lifted to the current 1.75 percent in November last year.
Calls had mounted for the BOK's rate increase on massive household debts, but the pace of household debt growth slowed in recent months on government's efforts to curb speculative investment in the real estate market.
The slower consumer price inflation was attributed to lower prices for oil product and vegetable.
Oil product price slipped 9.6 percent in March from a year earlier, lowering the overall inflation by 0.43 percentage points.
Prices for gasoline and diesel posted a double-digit increase compared with a year earlier, but those prices gained on a monthly basis amid the recently expensive crude oil. Dubai crude, South Korea's benchmark, rose to 66.9 U.S. dollars per barrel in March from 64.6 dollars in the previous month.
Vegetable price tumbled 12.9 percent last month, pulling down the overall inflation by 0.21 percentage points.
Prices for agricultural, livestock and fishery product fell 0.3 percent in March from a year ago. Prices for white radish, strawberry, onion, green onion and zucchini retreated by double digits last month.
Services price climbed 1.1 percent in March, raising the headline inflation by 0.58 percentage points, but it was the lowest figure in about five years since February 2014.
The statistical agency said vegetable supply increased in recent months on favorable weather conditions while the oil product price stabilized on cheaper crude oil from November last year to February this year.
The so-called livelihood price index, which reflects costs for daily necessities, was unchanged in March from a year earlier.
The fresh food price index, which gauges costs for fruit, vegetable, fish and shellfish, retreated 3 percent last month.
Core consumer price, which excludes volatile agricultural and oil products, added 0.9 percent in March from a year earlier.
The OECD-method core price index, which excludes food and energy costs, rose 0.8 percent in the month, logging the lowest in about 19 years since February 2000.
The low core inflation indicated the demand-side inflationary pressure remaining weak.
The statistical office forecast the consumer price inflation would stay below 1 percent in April, before rising above the level in the second half of this year.