Retail Prices Soften in August

Overall CPI inches up 0.1 percent for core and noncore indexes.

Retail apparel prices flattened out in August after notable increases the previous two months, matching an equally undynamic month for overall consumer prices, the U.S. Labor Department reported Tuesday in its Consumer Price Index.

Prices on all apparel sold at retail edged up a seasonally adjusted 0.1 percent, after monthly increases of 0.6 percent in July and 0.9 percent in June. Overall apparel prices increased 1.8 percent on a year-to-year basis.

Women’s apparel prices at retail outpaced men’s, girl’s and boy’s in August, and was the only category with price hikes. Women’s apparel prices rose 1.6 percent for the month and 3.1 percent for the year, while men’s prices fell 0.2 percent from July and gained 1.1 percent from August 2012. Girl’s apparel prices were down 2.5 percent in the month and were up 1.9 percent for the year, while boy’s prices dipped 0.1 percent month-to-month and gained 0.3 percent year-to-year.

Within the women’s category, retail prices for suits and separates increased 2 percent in the month and were up 1.8 percent for the year, as dress prices rose 1.2 percent month-to-month and 2.2 percent year-to-year. The broad category that includes underwear, nightwear, sportswear and accessories saw prices rise 0.5 percent in August and increase 3.4 percent over the 12 months. Outerwear was the only women’s sector to see a monthly decline, with prices falling 2.1 percent in the month, although they were up 14.2 percent from a year earlier.

In men’s wear, prices for men’s furnishings rose 2.1 percent last month and were up 6.2 percent from August 2012. Prices for shirts and sweaters increased 1.1 percent for the month but were down 0.3 percent from a year earlier. The suits, sports coats and outerwear sector posted a price decline of 2.6 percent last month and was down 2.5 percent over the year, while prices for pants and shorts fell 1.7 percent in August and were flat over the 12 months.

The overall CPI inched up a seasonally adjusted 0.1 percent in August and was up 1.5 percent for the year. The core index, which excludes volatile food and energy prices, was also up 0.1 percent for the month and gained 1.8 percent for the year.

“The price of gasoline has been the bane of many monthly CPI reports in the last few years, but gasoline prices eased a token 0.1 percent in August to not matter much,” said IHS Global Insight U.S. economist Michael Montgomery. “Other energy prices bounced up and down as they normally do, but a natural gas price decline lead to a 0.3 percent softening in energy prices.”

Montgomery said the outlook for the balance of the year “remains almost as bland” as the meager year-to-year prices gains in the core and noncore CPI.

“There is no spike in energy on the horizon and food prices are set to begin to cool,” he added. “Core prices should continue to follow the familiar script of goods prices [being] soggy and service prices firming at close to a 2 percent annual clip. There is almost no story to the inflation picture as 2013 approaches the end of the third quarter.”