The Labor Department reported that, due largely to falling energy prices, consumer prices fell 0.2 percent in March after an increase of 0.7 percent in February. On a year-over-year basis, the government’s official measure of inflation now stands at just 1.5 percent, an eight month low, down from 1.7 percent as reported a month ago.

Paced by a 4.4 percent drop in the gasoline prices, the energy index fell 2.6 percent last month after jumping 5.4 percent in February and it is now down 1.6 percent from a year ago. Food prices were flat last month, now up 1.5 percent on a year-over-year basis.

Excluding food and energy, the price index rose 0.1 percent in March after a gain of 0.2 percent and this measure of inflation is now 1.9 percent higher than a year ago.

By category, monthly and annual price changes are as shown below.

In a separate report released by the Commerce Department, home building rose to the highest level since 2008 as housing starts rose 7.0 percent in March to an annual rate of 1.04 million units. A surge of 31 percent in the construction of multi-family homes was entirely responsible for the increase as starts of single-family homes fell by almost five percent. Permits for new construction, a key leading indicator for the industry, dropped by 4 percent to a rate of 0.90 million units.