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WASHINGTON — Retail stocks tacked on 3.1 percent to recent gains Wednesday as the equity markets responded positively to the Federal Reserve’s decision to buy $1 trillion in government securities to bolster the economy.

This story first appeared in the March 19, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.


In its sixth gain in the last seven sessions, the S&P Retail Index topped the 275 mark, rising 8.45 points to 277.79. After a brief advance above 7,500, the Dow Jones Industrial Average picked up 90.88 points, or 1.2 percent, to close at 7,486.58, and the S&P 500 added 29.11, or 2 percent, to finish at 1,491.22. Stocks straddled the break-even point until word of the Fed move in the afternoon.

The latest market results came as the Labor Department, in its monthly Consumer Price Index report, said that retail apparel prices rose a seasonally adjusted 1.3 percent in February, but fell 0.8 percent from a year earlier.

Women’s apparel prices increased 0.7 percent in February, but fell 0.9 percent year-over-year. Men’s apparel prices rose 2.8 percent and 2 percent for the year.

Prices for all goods and services climbed 0.4 percent and increased 0.2 percent compared with a year earlier. The February increase was the largest since July 2008 and was driven mostly by higher energy and fuel prices, economists said.

The so-called core prices, excluding the volatile energy and food sectors, rose 0.2 percent in February and increased 1.8 percent in the 12 months.

Apparel prices are expected to rise as holiday discounts fade and spring merchandise is introduced, but the increases this year were especially high, said Nigel Gault, chief U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight. He said price increases “don’t indicate a major rebound in consumer spending,” nor do last month’s data “indicate a sustained rise in apparel prices.”

In the broad category of underwear, nightwear, sportswear and accessories, prices were up 3.8 percent, the largest-ever February percentage increase for the grouping. In 12-month comparisons, prices in the category rose 4.2 percent. Prices for women’s dresses spiked 7.8 percent in the month and 7.4 percent from a year earlier. Women’s outerwear prices declined 1.6 percent and fell 5.3 percent compared with a year ago. The cost of women’s suits and separates slid 1.5 percent and dropped 3.8 percent from February 2008.

Men’s retail apparel prices were up in most categories. Costs for men’s suits, sport coats and outerwear increased 3.3 percent, but dropped 2.1 percent year-to-year. Men’s furnishings increased 2.8 percent and spiked 6.6 percent from a year earlier. Men’s shirts and sweaters prices advanced 5.2 percent and 0.5 percent in 12-month comparisons. Pants and shorts increased 1.4 percent and 2.4 percent from February 2008.