(Adds details of retail sales, context)
SAO PAULO, April 15 (Reuters) - Brazilian retail sales rose in February on strong fuel demand, keeping pressure on consumer prices as accelerating inflation threatens to become a central issue in this year’s presidential campaign.
Retail sales volumes in Brazil rose 0.2 percent in February from January, the government statistics agency IBGE said on Tuesday, in line with expectations in a Reuters poll.
President Dilma Rousseff’s economic policies have come under fire as consumer inflation nears the ceiling of her government’s official target despite three years of disappointing growth.
Rousseff maintains a strong lead in polling ahead of an election in October, but her chief opponents have begun questioning her inflation-fighting credentials - a hot-button topic in a country still scarred by rampant inflation from decades past.
Brazil’s central bank targets annual inflation of 4.5 percent, with 2 percentage points of tolerance either way.
12-month inflation has been running above the center of that target for Rousseff’s three years in office. Economists raised their 2014 inflation forecasts to 6.47 percent in a central bank survey published on Monday, their sixth straight increase.
Fuel sales rose 1.6 percent in February, adding to demand that has outstripped Brazil’s domestic refining capacity in recent years. Sales of office supplies and communications equipment rose 9 percent in the month, which corresponds with the start of the Brazilian school year.
February’s retail sales jumped 8.5 percent from the year-earlier period, the IBGE added, more than the 8.1 percent median estimate in the Reuters poll, due to a later Carnival holiday, which fell in March instead of February this year. (Reporting by Brad Haynes; Additional reporting by Felipe Pontes and Rodrigo Viga Gaier; Editing by W Simon and Chizu Nomiyama)