By  on January 18, 2007

WASHINGTON — December wholesale prices on U.S.-made women and girls' apparel fell 0.4 percent compared with Novem­ber and were down 0.7 percent from a year earlier.

The U.S. Labor Department reported Wednesday that the overall Producer Price Index — wholesale prices for all U.S.-made goods — rose a seasonally adjusted 0.9 percent last month after gaining 2 percent in November. Excluding food and energy, so-called core wholesale prices advanced 0.2 percent after increasing 1.3 percent in November.

"The trend in core producer price inflation is encouraging and mirrors the recent subsiding of inflation pressures observed in consumer prices," said Kenneth Beauchemin, U.S. economist at Global Insight, in a report. "With oil prices currently on the wane, [Wednesday's] report is benign at worst and will do precious little to disturb the current monetary policy outlook."

Economists and the Federal Reserve Board closely watch for signs of price inflation. If price increases are too steep or too sustained, the Fed could boost interest rates, which generally cools consumer spending and economic growth in the short run.

Another Labor Department measure of the pricing landscape, this time at the retail level, is set to come out today with the release of the Consumer Price Index. In apparel, the CPI is more telling since it includes all goods sold at retail, including imports that account for more than 90 percent of the merchandise.

Within women's and girls', domestically made dress prices last month fell 4 percent from a year earlier, as underwear prices slid 2.6 percent. Bucking the trend were knit shirts, with a 0.6 percent price rise, and woven shirts, which were up 1.9 percent.

On the textile front, prices on synthetic fibers rose 1.2 percent compared with December 2005, processed yarns and threads were up 2.3 percent, greige fabrics were ahead 1.3 percent and finished fabric prices increased 1.5 percent. Industry executives generally pin these price hikes on increased energy costs.

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