By  on June 16, 2005

WASHINGTON — Women's retail apparel prices held steady last month and were down 2 percent from a year ago, a U.S. Department of Labor report said.

So far this year, price tags on women's apparel increased 0.6 percent, according to the Consumer Price Index released Wednesday. Changes for the month and year-to-date are adjusted for seasonal variations, while year-ago figures are unadjusted.

Retail prices on all goods fell 0.1 percent during the month, the first drop since July. Retail sales also dipped last month, declining 0.5 percent to $343.62 billion, according to a report from the Commerce Department.

Ken Goldstein, an economist at the Conference Board, said pricing power is improving slowly.

"The economy is slowing, but it's going to slow to about a 3 to 3.5 [percent] pace, which isn't bad," Goldstein said. "That's sort of average."

Goldstein said he expects the Federal Reserve to continue to raise interest rates. The Federal Open Market Committee meets June 29 and 30 and is expected to raise its benchmark interest rate to 3.25 percent from 3 percent.

Overall apparel prices were flat last month and down 0.8 percent from May 2004.

Within the women's category, outerwear prices rose 4.7 percent in May, but were down 4.1 percent from a year ago. Dresses increased 2.9 percent and were up 4.8 percent against a year ago, while suits and separates slid 0.7 percent and were down 5 percent in the 12 months. Prices in a combined category that includes nightwear, sportswear and accessories slid 0.8 percent for the month and were up 2.3 percent from May 2004.

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