WASHINGTON -- The economy last month continued to keep inflation at bay, reflected in a seasonally adjusted 1.1 percent drop in wholesale prices for U.S.-made women's apparel from March levels.

Prices for all finished goods in April declined 0.1 percent, the Labor Department reported Thursday in its Producer Price Index.

Since April 1993, women's apparel prices declined 1.2 percent and wholesale prices for all finished goods fell 0.4 percent.

Wholesale prices for all apparel declined 0.2 percent from March and 0.1 percent from a year earlier. Producer prices of men's and boys' apparel rose 0.3 percent for the month and 0.5 percent from a year ago. Wholesale prices for girls', children's and infants' apparel increased 0.2 percent from March and 0.6 percent from April 1993. "The rate of inflation in apparel is reflective of the competition," said Carl Priestland, economist with the American Apparel Manufacturers' Association. "It's still a tough market out there." He also said higher-than-normal inventories are working to keep prices down.

The largest price decline in women's apparel came in blouses and shirts, down 4.1 percent from March and 2.3 percent from April 1993. Producer prices for dresses dropped 2.3 percent for the month, 1.8 percent for the 12 months. Prices for sweaters, jackets and jerseys declined 0.7 percent from March and 0.1 percent for the year. The only prices posting a monthly increase were for shorts and jeans, up 0.2 percent, but the were down 2.8 percent from April 1993.

Prices in the textile industry declined less than 0.1 percent in April against March, despite increases in cotton prices.

"Inflation just doesn't seem to have reached the textile industry," said Dave Link, economist with the American Textile Manufacturers' Institute. "They're not being able to pass along price increases."

Gray goods prices last month were up 0.5 percent from March and down 2.5 percent from a year ago. Finished fabric prices increased 0.1 percent for the month and declined 0.4 percent over the 12 months. Man-made fiber prices declined 1 percent from March and 0.6 percent over the year. Processed yarn and thread prices were down 0.3 percent for the month and were up 0.8 percent from April 1993.

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