WASHINGTON – Consumer prices vaulted higher in April, fueling concerns the Federal Reserve might keep pushing interest rates up to fend off inflation, and discouraged Wall Street investors sent stocks tumbling Wednesday. Soaring prices for gasoline and other energy products have played a major role in the spikes seen over the past two months. And the price tags of lots of other goods and services also are climbing. The closely watched Consumer Price Index rose 0.6 percent, the biggest jump in three months, the Labor Department said Wednesday. That followed an already strong 0.4 percent advance in March. “The whiff of inflation is feeling more like a gust,” observed Richard Yamarone, economist at Argus Research. “The inflation picture is worsening.” AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREBasketball roundup: Sierra Canyon, Birmingham set to face off in tournament quarterfinalsOn Wall Street, stocks plunged. The Dow Jones industrials plummeted 214.28 points to close at 11,205.61 in the biggest single-session loss since falling 307 points on March 24, 2003. Broader stock indicators declined. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index lost 21.76, or 1.68 percent, to 1,270.32, its lowest since finishing at 1,262.86 on Feb. 13; the Nasdaq fell 33.33, or 1.5 percent, to 2,195.80, showing a loss for the first time in 2006. “The CPI data really kicked the market in the teeth today,” said Ken Tower, chief market strategist for Schwab’s CyberTrader. “So the question now really is where can we find some support?” As the Dow came within 80 points of its best-ever close of 11,722.98 last week, many analysts felt the market was overbought and would soon see a correction. But Tower said stocks are now oversold after several days of steep losses, suggesting that investors may start looking for positive signs to spur buying. Excluding energy and food prices, “core” prices went up 0.3 percent in April for the second month in a row. The sizable back-to-back increases suggested that rising energy costs may be starting to breed wider inflation throughout the economy. Stuart Hoffman, chief economist at PNC Financial Services Group, described the inflation performance as “rotten to the core.” He and other economists said it indicates that more companies are passing along some of their higher costs for energy and other materials to consumers. The latest inflation readings were higher than economists anticipated. They were forecasting a 0.5 percent increase in overall consumer prices and a 0.2-percent rise in core prices. So far this year, consumer prices are rising at an annual rate of 5.1 percent, much faster than the 3.4 percent increase registered for all of 2005. Core prices are advancing at a brisk 3 percent pace, compared with a more moderate 2.2 percent rise for last year. To thwart inflation, the Federal Reserve bumped up interest rates last week to a five-year high of 5 percent. It was the 16th increase in a row since the Fed began to tighten credit in June 2004. Fed policymakers left options for future decisions wide open. They suggested another increase might be possible, or they could take a pause in their rate-raising campaign depending on how inflation and economic activity unfold. A growing number of economists said Wednesday’s inflation report raises the odds for another rate increase at the Fed’s next meeting, June 28-29. “I conclude that higher interest rates are in our future,” said Brandeis University economics professor Stephen Cecchetti. Some, however, still believe the Fed will leave rates alone at the June meeting on the grounds that slower economic growth will eventually ease inflation pressures. The economy in the first quarter of this year grew at a brisk 4.8 percent pace, the fastest in 2 years. Growth is expected to slow to around a 3 percent pace in the April-to-June period, which would still be healthy.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!