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Retail Apparel Prices Fall in January

Merchants see some pricing power in women's apparel.

WASHINGTON — Retail apparel prices fell in January as a decline in men’s apparel prices offset a gain in women’s, the U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday in its Consumer Price Index.

Prices on all apparel sold at retail fell a seasonally adjusted 0.3 percent last month. Women’s retail apparel prices rose 0.9 percent, while prices for men’s apparel decreased 1.7 percent. Girls’ apparel prices declined 0.9 percent, while boys’ apparel prices were up 0.6 percent.

“Generally speaking, a lot of spending has been hurt because of weather, so a lot of the economic data is coming in weak,” said Jeet Dutta, senior economist at Moody’s Analytics. “People have had to hold back on planned spending on account of the weather and economic activity has generally been subdued. One can expect the apparel category has been affected [by the severe winter weather in most parts of the U.S.] and so retailers would be cautious in terms of pricing, which could partly explain the drop in January.”

Women’s retail prices appeared to be resilient. Within the category, retail prices for outerwear rose 2.1 percent for the month, while prices for dresses increased 1.7 percent. Prices for the broad category that includes underwear, nightwear, sportswear and accessories gained 0.8 percent, while prices for suits and separates dipped 1.1 percent.

In men’s wear, prices for pants and shorts dropped 4.1 percent, as prices for furnishings fell 0.2 percent and prices for shirts and sweaters remained flat. Prices for the combined category of suits, sport coats and outerwear rose 0.6 percent.

Dutta said he expects merchants to regain some pricing power later this year.

“If globally growth is a little stronger, these vendor shipping to the U.S. would have some more pricing power in apparel, so the higher prices they charge would eventually filter [up] to the retail level,” Dutta said.

The overall CPI edged up 0.1 percent in January, after increasing 0.2 percent in December. The core index, which excludes volatile food and energy prices, was also up 0.1 percent last month.

“There should be some firming up of core commodities once Europe and China’s recoveries advance a bit more, but services are driven by goods and people costs, and people are getting lean wage increases in 2014 because price gains have been modest over the past year, and the jobless rate remains high — none of that will change anytime soon,” said Michael Montgomery, U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight.