By  on January 19, 2010

WASHINGTON — Retail apparel prices rose a seasonally adjusted 0.4 percent in December compared with November and advanced 1.9 percent from a year earlier, according the Department of Labor’s Consumer Price Index.

Women’s apparel prices increased 0.6 percent month-to-month and were up 2.9 percent year-over-year. Men’s apparel declined 0.3 percent in December, but rose 0.5 percent in 12-month comparisons.

Labor Department economist Jessica Penvose confirmed apparel discounts in December weren’t as steep as in previous years, which helped drive up prices.

“Our numbers seem to support retail sales data,” Penvose said. “Retailers were not discounting as much [in December].”

Charles McMillion, president and chief economist of MBG Information Services, said retailers took earlier, deeper discounts in October and November, and December numbers reflected that adjustment.

The overall CPI, released Friday, was up 0.1 percent in December and rose 2.7 percent compared with a year ago.

Despite some price increases, overall inflation concerns are “effectively dormant,” said Brian Bethune, chief financial economist for IHS Global Insight. For all of 2009, the CPI declined 0.4 percent, Bethune said, which is “a deflationary landmark that we have not seen since 1955.”

Women’s apparel prices rose in both monthly and yearly comparisons. Retail prices for women’s outerwear gained 3.6 percent in December and 4.8 percent versus a year earlier. Women’s dress prices were up 0.5 percent month-to-month and 1.3 percent year-over-year.

Retail prices for men’s suits, sport coats and outerwear increased 0.6 percent in December, but fell 2 percent compared with a year earlier. Men’s furnishings declined 1 percent, but rose 1.6 percent year-over-year.

The firmness of prices notwithstanding, retail stocks finished a down week with another decline. The S&P Retail Index dropped 0.3 percent Friday, less than the major indices, to finish at 408.30, bringing the decrease for the week to 2.1 percent.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average declined 0.1 percent to 10,609.65, the S&P 500 slid 0.8 percent to 1,136.03 and the Nasdaq Composite 1.3 percent to 2,287.99. While London’s FTSE 100 dipped 1.4 percent to 5,455.37, the CAC 40 in Paris fell 2.2 percent to 3,954.38, slipping below the 4,000 mark, and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index dropped 2.9 percent to 21,654.16. However, the Nikkei 225 in Tokyo rose for the week, advancing 1.7 percent to 10.982.1.

Among the 172 public firms tracked by WWD, 101 were down and 67 up while four were flat.

On Monday, while U.S. markets were off for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday, Asian markets stalled while Europe’s rallied. The Nikkei 225 in Tokyo was off 1.2 percent to 10,855.08 while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index gave up 0.9 percent to land at 21,460.01. But the CAC 40 in Paris was up 0.6 percent to 3,977.46 and the FTSE 100 gained 0.7 percent to 5,494.39.

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