Money in a Minute: Headlines for March 18, 2011

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In today's news: Inflation is low yet prices are still climbing, U.S. manufacturing keeps improving, Visa will allow personal payments, Californians won't face 59-percent health insurance hikes, and Lincoln is deemed the most dependable car manufacturer.

INFLATION: Consumer prices up 2.1 percent

Inflation is low, but food and energy prices are still surging, thanks to problems in the Middle East and elsewhere. The U.S. Consumer Price Index, which measures inflation, jumped 2.1 percent in the past 12 months ending in February, up from 1.6 percent in January. “That was the fastest rate since April 2010, when prices were coming back from a year of recession lows,” CNN Money reports. Without volatile food and energy factored in, overall inflation came in at a tame 1.1 percent.

MANUFACTURING: U.S. manufacturing strengthens, bolstering expansion

February marked the sixth straight month that production at U.S. factories went up. “The 0.4 percent rise in manufacturing output, which makes up 75 percent of all industrial production, followed a 0.9 percent January gain that was three times as large as initially estimated,” Bloomberg reports.

CREDIT CARDS: Visa to allow users to pay each other

Visa says it will soon allow its cardholders to pay each other instead of going through merchants. “No cash on hand to pay the babysitter? Owe your mom $10? Soon you’ll be able to send payments directly to their Visa card,” MSNBC reports. The service should roll out nationwide this summer.

HEALTH CARE: California insurer backs away from 59 percent hike

Almost 200,000 Californians who have their health insurance through Blue Shield were facing premium hikes as high as 59 percent – until public outcry led the company to reconsider. It originally said it needed more money to cover “higher medical costs, greater use of medical care, and a growing trend of healthier people dropping coverage during a bad economy.” But CNN Money reports, “The company rakes in about $1 billion in revenue from its individual insurance market plans and a total of about $10 billion annual from all of its insurance products.”

CARS: Lincoln named most dependable brand by J.D. Power

Lincoln is now the “the most dependable nameplate among all brands, foreign and domestic,” USA Today reports. “Lincoln, Ford’s near-luxury brand, has never placed at the top of the ranking before.”

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