WASHINGTON — Retail apparel prices fell a seasonally adjusted 0.1 percent in February, driven primarily by a significant drop in girls’ apparel prices and a slight decline in men’s wear, the U.S. Labor Department’s Consumer Price Index showed Friday.
Girls’ apparel prices fell 6.8 percent, and men’s prices dipped 0.6 percent.
“In our girls’ apparel sample, there was a higher percentage of fall and winter clearance items,” said Ryann Watkins, a Labor Department economist.
Women’s apparel prices remained strong, however, increasing 1.3 percent last month. Prices for suits and separates rose 3.8 percent, while prices for outerwear increased 2.3 percent. Retail prices for dresses fell 1.3 percent, and combined prices for underwear, nightwear, sportswear and accessories declined 0.5 percent.
“The reason women’s was up so much this month was due to the introduction of spring and summer merchandise,” Watkins said. “It was coming in at higher regular and sales prices than we normally see in February.”
In the men’s category, prices for pants and shorts fell 4.4 percent last month, while prices for shirts and sweaters dropped 2 percent. Combined prices for suits, sport coats and outerwear rose 3.8 percent, and prices for furnishings edged up 0.8 percent.
Jeet Dutta, senior economist at Moody’s Analytics, attributed the higher women’s apparel prices to new seasonal merchandise as well.
“It could be merchants are enjoying some pricing power,” Dutta said. “Consumer spending has held up quite well to start the year. The expectation was there would be some weakening by the end of the payroll tax holiday, but that was clearly not happening in January or February.”
The overall CPI rose 0.7 percent in February due to soaring gasoline prices. Core prices, excluding the volatile food and energy sector, edged up 0.2 percent.
“The consumer price outlook looks relatively modest,” said Chris G. Christopher Jr., director of consumer economics at IHS Global Insight. “Pump prices are expected to fall, and food-price increases seem well under control.”