UPDATE 1-Brazil's inflation remains at 12-year highs in mid-February
(Adds table, background) BRASILIA, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Consumer prices in Brazil kept rising at the fastest pace in 12 years in the month to mid-February, driven up by a sharp increase in electricity rates, fuel prices and school tuition, government data showed on Tuesday. Brazil's IPCA-15 consumer price index rose 1.33 percent in the month to mid-February, up from 0.89 in the previous month, government statistics agency IBGE said. In the 12 months through mid-February, the IPCA-15 index rose 7.36 percent, far above the government's 4.5 percent target and the 6.69 percent rate clocked in mid-January. Monthly inflation has topped 1 percent since the beginning of the year, the highest levels since February 2003, mostly due to pent-up price pressures after years of government attempts to rein in inflation by delaying increases in fuel prices and other costs under its direct control. Transportation prices rose 1.98 percent from mid-January after Finance Minister Joaquim Levy raised taxes on gasoline and diesel and local governments increased bus and subway fares. Housing prices jumped 2.17 percent in the month as electricity rates soared, while education costs increased 5.98 percent, IBGE added. Food prices slowed their increase from mid-January, rising 0.85 percent in the month. High inflation has been one of Brazil's biggest obstacles to faster economic growth in recent years as consumer confidence has plunged to decade lows, industries cut back on investments and interest rates climb back to double-digit levels. The central bank, which has pledged to lower inflation back to 4.5 percent in 2016, is expected to raise its benchmark Selic rate from 12.25 percent to 12.75 percent later this year, according to the median forecasts of economists in a central bank poll released on Monday. The IPCA-15 index had been expected to rise 1.29 percent, according to the median forecast in a Reuters poll. Below is the result for each price category: February January - Food and beverages 0.85 1.45 - Housing 2.17 1.23 - Household articles 0.62 -0.55 - Apparel -0.89 0.51 - Transport 1.98 0.75 - Health and personal care 0.39 0.38 - Personal expenses 1.22 1.39 - Education 5.98 0.30 - Communication 0.28 -0.04 - IPCA-15 1.33 0.89 (Reporting by Silvio Cascione)
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