U.S. import prices rose by much more than expected in March as the cost of imported fuel jumped, while home refinancings were dampened by higher mortgage rates, new data showed on Wednesday.

The price of goods imported into the United States was up 0.9 percent, the sixth consecutive monthly rise after a 0.4 percent gain in February, the Labor Department (search) said.

March's rise was nearly double Wall Street forecasts for a 0.5 percent advance.

The cost of petroleum products climbed 6.1 percent after a revised 0.1 percent gain the previous month. Non-petroleum imports increased 0.2 percent.

Export prices were up 0.9 percent, the largest gain since April 1995's 1.0 percent rise, Labor said.

Imported food costs advanced 0.8 percent after pushing up a revised 1.3 percent in February.

Commodity prices have been powered higher in recent months. The Reuters/CRB Index of 17 commodity futures, a widely watched benchmark for raw material prices, sits near a 23-year high reached two weeks ago.

Industrial supplies, excluding petroleum, advanced 1.1 percent.

Import prices can be influenced heavily by the value of the dollar in foreign exchange markets but the currency's two-year slide has so far had only a modest upward impact, with stiff competition and demand weakness as the economy climbed out of recession keeping costs in check.

Over the last 12 months, non-petroleum imports have risen 1.0 percent.