By Yantoultra Ngui

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia--Malaysia's inflation rate accelerated in March toward its highest level since late 2008, owing to the low base last year and gains in retail fuel prices, official data showed Wednesday.

The consumer-price index rose 5.1% from a year ago, according to the Department of Statistics, compared with a 4.5% year-over-year increase in February. The figure came in below a forecast 5.5% increase from a Wall Street Journal survey of 10 economists.

March's inflation rate was the highest since it hit 5.7% in November 2008.

On a monthly basis, the CPI declined 0.1% after seasonal adjustment, the data showed.

March's inflation rate was driven mainly by higher costs for transportation, food and nonalcoholic beverages, according to a statement from the Department of Statistics.

Malaysia's central bank last month said the rate was projected to trend higher this year, in the 3.0%-4.0% range compared with 2.1% in 2016, mainly because of the pass-through impact of the increase in global oil prices on domestic retail fuel prices.

Oil prices have risen since the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries reached a deal in November to cut production after a two-year slump. Malaysia raised fuel prices in January and February.

Some economists have said Bank Negara Malaysia, the country's central bank, might raise the benchmark interest rate, currently at 3.00%, by a quarter percentage point this year in light of high inflation that translates into negative real returns for investors.

Write to Yantoultra Ngui at

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

April 19, 2017 00:27 ET (04:27 GMT)Copyright (c) 2017 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.