By  on May 15, 2008

WASHINGTON — In the midst of continued inflationary trends driven largely by food cost and energy increases, men’s retail apparel prices increased 0.9 percent in April compared to the previous month and 0.8 percent versus a year ago, the Labor Department reported Wednesday in its Consumer Price Index.

Apparel costs overall crept up 0.5 percent compared to the previous month, but dropped 0.7 percent compared to April 2007. Women’s apparel prices were flat compared to March and dropped 4.3 percent compared to a year ago. Boys’ apparel prices decreased 0.2 percent on a monthly basis, and increased 3 percent versus April 2007.

Spikes in food costs drove retail prices up 0.2 percent overall after rising 0.2 percent in March. Prices were flat in February and up 0.3 percent in January. March consumer prices just missed consensus estimates of a 0.3 percent increase for the month.

Core prices, excluding the unpredictable food and energy sectors, crept up 0.1 percent compared to the previous month and 2.3 percent versus a year ago. Food prices continued to rise in April, but energy prices showed a lull in the increases of the last few months. Sources said the drop reported in April was temporary, however.

Men’s furnishing prices declined 0.4 percent in monthly and year-over-year comparisons. Prices for suits, sport coats and outerwear increased 1.1 percent compared to March and 3.8 percent versus April 2007. Men’s shirts and sweater prices climbed 1.7 percent in monthly comparison, but dropped 2.1 percent compared to the previous year.

The slight downtick in the core rate for April was a “pleasant surprise” and should help alleviate some of the concern about the outlook for inflation, said Kenneth Beauchemin, U.S. economist for Global Insight.

“Nevertheless, plenty of risk remains. The remarkable consistency of the ‘across the board’ increases in food prices, emanates from a number of sources, including the soaring energy prices of recent months. To what extent, and when, the energy price onslaught embeds itself into core consumer prices, is an open question,” Beauchemin said.

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