Consumer prices rose a modest 0.2 percent last month, but a 3.5 percent gain since last November is beginning to stoke concerns about inflation heading into 2005.

The Labor Department announced Friday that the Consumer Price Index hit 191.0 in November, up a seasonally adjusted 0.2 percent since October. While seemingly insignificant, the November rise followed several recent monthly gains, including a 0.6 percent gain in October, and the year-over year trend marked the largest such increase in three years. The index gained 1.9 percent during all of 2003.

Even as gasoline prices fell slightly, high fuel prices continued to lead the way in November. Energy costs, which advanced 4.2 percent in October, increased 0.2 percent in November. Within energy, the index for household fuels rose 2.5 percent, while the index for motor fuels decreased 1.8 percent. The index for food, which rose 0.6 percent in October, increased 0.2 percent in November.

The Labor Department said that the index for energy, which increased by 6.9 percent during 2003, had already gained 20.5 percent through the first 11 months of 2004. Petroleum-based energy costs increased at a 34.9 percent annual rate and charges for energy services rose at a 6.8 percent clip. The food index has increased at a 2.9 percent rate thus far in 2004, following a 3.6 percent rise for all of 2003. Excluding food and energy, the index grew at a 2.3 percent seasonally adjusted rate through the first 11 months of 2004, after a 1.1 percent increase in 2003.

The index measures the price change of a basket of consumer goods and services over time and is seen as a key indicator of inflationary trends. It is pegged to a base level of 100 representing average prices from 1982.