WASHINGTON -- Prices surprisingly dipped in September, the first decline since the spring, indicating that inflation remains well in check as Federal Reserve policymakers meet to consider if they should reduce a key central bank stimulus effort.

The Labor Department on Tuesday said its producer price index, a key gauge of inflation, dropped 0.1% last month after rising 0.3% in August. Analysts had expected a 0.2% increase in September's report, whose release was delayed by the partial federal government shutdown.

For the year ending in September, prices rose just 0.3%, the lowest 12-month figure since October 2009.

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Most analysts do not expect Fed policymakers to reduce their bond-buying program when they meet Tuesday and Wednesday in Washington.

The Fed has been purchasing $85 billion in Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities since September 2012 in the central bank's latest stimulus effort.

Some analysts have been concerned that the purchases, on top of other Fed stimulus efforts, could trigger higher inflation. But the producer price index and other measures show inflation running well below the Fed's annual target of a 2% rise in prices.

Lindsey M. Piegza, chief economist at Sterne Agee, said Tuesday's data show that "from the Fed’s standpoint, inflation remains a non-issue."

Low inflation adds to the expectation that the Fed will continue its pace of bond-buying. The policymaking Federal Open Market Committee is to announce its decision on the program Wednesday.

Excluding volatile food and energy costs, prices rose 0.1% in September, after holding steady the previous month, the Labor Department said. That was in line with analyst expectations.

Food prices dropped 1% in September, but that was partially offset by a 0.5% increase in energy prices. The rise in energy prices was partly attributable to a jump in home heating oil prices.

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