From heat to meat, fuel is driving up prices 

Jim Shelton says he was happy to sell his old, gas-guzzling Mazda CRX when he moved into The City from the East Coast a year ago.

"It’s hard enough to afford an apartment here without paying for gas and parking tickets," Shelton said.

But even without the car, Shelton is not free from nationwide pain at the pump. Rising gas prices have driven up shipping costs to the point where everything costs more — from the heating bill to groceries to a new wardrobe, economists say.

Since last year, Bay Area transportation costs have risen 13.2 percent, the largest increase since 1980, according to the latest consumer prices index, released recently by the U.S. Department of Labor.

The cost for groceries in the region rose 4.7 percent and the prices for alcoholic beverages rose 6.2 percent, the Labor Department said.

"The U.S. city average is the largest increase in the [price index] in 17 years," said Tony Nunes, spokesman with the Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Any goods that need to be shipped have been affected."

In the Bay Area, alcohol has taken the brunt of the price increases. The cost of anything from a pint at the bar to a bottle of whiskey at the grocery store has risen nearly 50 percent in the last decade, the report said.

Pints of beer at local brewery 21st Amendment cost $5.50, 50 cents more than they did two years ago, brewmaster Shaun O’Sullivan said.

"We’ve seen fuel charges on everything from the food at the restaurant to raw ingredients for the beer itself," O’Sullivan said. "It all kind of piles on."

Aside from higher fuel costs, local breweries also are seeing rising demand for glass materials and a shortage of barley and hops. 21st Amendment has begun serving its craft beer in cans to offset the cost of glass, O’Sullivan said.

And there’s little reprieve for local businesses. Nearly two-thirds, or 63 percent, of consumers are cutting spending because of high gas prices, up 18 percentage points from one year ago, according to a survey released Thursday by Nielsen Co.

And with the price of a barrel of oil expected to reach $150 by winter, everyday costs are expected to rise, experts say.

"If transportation costs continue to rise, it would be expected that costs for such things as groceries will continue to rise as well," Nunes said.

maldax@sfexaminer.com

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Thursday, Feb 26, 2015

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