By  on June 17, 2008

WASHINGTON – Men’s apparel prices edged higher in May, increasing a seasonally adjusted 0.4 percent from the prior month and gaining 2.5 percent from a year ago.

Prices for all apparel, including girls' and women’s, dropped 0.3 percent compared to a month ago and 0.6 percent from the prior year. Women’s retail apparel prices eased down in May, declining a seasonally adjusted 0.5 percent from the prior month and falling 4.4 percent from a year ago.

Retail prices for all consumer goods increased in May, climbing a seasonally adjusted 0.6 percent from April and 4.2 percent from last year, led by increased food and energy costs. Core prices, excluding the volatile food and energy sectors, grew 0.2 percent from the previous month and 2.3 percent versus last year.

Monthly prices dropped in the shirts and sweaters, pants and shorts and boys’ apparel categories. They fell 0.1, 0.3 and 0.2 percent respectively. Shirts and sweaters prices dropped 1.6 from a year ago. Retail prices for pants and shorts increased 4.2 percent from last year and boys’ apparel prices climbed 3 percent.

Suits, sport coats and outerwear prices increased 0.8 percent in May from April and 3.6 percent from May of last year. Men’s furnishings prices were up 1 percent from April and 0.9 percent versus the same period last year.

“It’s fairly clear that retailers don’t have much pricing power,” said Charles McMillion, president and chief economist, MBG Information Services. “Everybody is running into serious price resistance, so it is very difficult to pass prices along.”

Consumers, squeezed already by higher energy and food prices, are not tolerant of higher prices, he said. In fact, wide spread discounts were a major factor for recent apparel prices in some categories, sources said.

When companies report quarterly profits there could be an impact on company margins if deep discounts have been driving retail sales and keeping apparel prices down, McMillion said.

Looking ahead there is uncertainty over price trends as fuel costs continue to soar. Prices for all consumer goods and core prices both edged higher in May, and the industries directly impacted by fuel are already reporting price increases. Airline fares increased 3.2 percent in May which drove the public transportation index up 2.3 percent. There is fear that prices increases could creep into other sectors down the road. Airline prices can be seen as an early warning, said Kenneth Beauchemin, U.S. economist, Global Insight.

“Producers have thus far remained patient, observant of competitive pressures while waiting for the tidal surge in energy prices to recede. It is becoming clearer, however, that the waters will stubbornly remain and cause more firms to throw in the towel and raise prices in the coming months,” Beauchemin said.

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