WASHINGTON — Retail prices for women’s apparel rebounded in October after last week’s strong sales report for stores, fueling positive signs for the holiday shopping season.
The U.S. Labor Department’s Consumer Price Index, the closely watched inflation barometer released Wednesday, showed that women’s apparel prices increased 1.8 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis and 0.4 percent from their year-ago level.
Economists said the boosts were not necessarily a sign of inflation because the sector has been in a long-term pattern of deflation. Women’s apparel retail prices posted three consecutive monthly declines until October. In addition, prices are expected to fall sharply in the next couple of years as 148 nations of the World Trade Organization lift quotas and remove costs associated with them.
Prices for all apparel rose 0.2 percent in the month, but were off 0.6 percent against a year ago.
“Retailers have a little bit more pricing power, although there was no gain in the year-over-year apparel number,” said John Mothersole, senior economist at Global Insight. “The big bang in retail pricing will occur when quotas come off of textile and apparel products next year.”
Mothersole said the expectation is that prices will drop by 10 to 20 percent in the next couple of years.
Prices for all retail goods increased 0.6 percent, the biggest jump in five months. Record surges in oil and gasoline propelled the boost and those prices have subsided this month. Stripping out volatile food and energy prices, the core index rose a modest 0.2 percent, which economists said showed inflation was in check.
Among women’s apparel categories tracked by the government, prices for outerwear went up 2.4 percent but were down 2.4 percent year-over-year, while prices for dresses gained 2 percent last month and 0.8 percent compared with October 2003. Retail prices for suits and separates were 2 percent higher in October and 2.5 percent higher against a year ago, while underwear, nightwear, sportswear and accessories prices fell 0.1 percent and were down 2.8 percent from the previous year.
Economists are predicting the apparel sector will post healthy gains during the holidays, pointing to an increase in consumer spending, combined with job growth — 377,000 new jobs were created in October — and an easing of oil and gasoline prices.
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