U.S. consumer prices were unexpectedly flat in November on a drop in energy costs and prices were also unchanged from the previous month when volatile food and energy costs were stripped out, defying forecasts of an uptick in core prices, a government report showed on Friday.

Economists polled by Reuters were expecting consumer prices and core consumer prices both to rise by 0.2 percent.

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Consumer prices and core consumer prices were also lower than expected over 12 months, a Labor Department report showed. Consumer prices rose a less-than-expected 2 percent over 12 months while core consumer prices rose 2.6 percent from November a year ago.

Analysts polled by Reuters were expecting a 2.2 percent 12-month rise in consumer prices and a 2.7 percent gain in core prices from November 2005.

Energy prices were down 0.2 percent from October and were 3.8 percent lower than November a year ago.

Transportation prices slipped 0.9 percent in November on a 4.8 percent decline in airline fares and a 0.7 percent fall in new vehicle prices.

Signs of steady consumer prices are likely to give relief to the U.S. Federal Reserve, which has said it stands ready to raise interest rates if necessary to damp down higher-than-desirable levels of inflation.

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