WASHINGTON--Despite increases in various raw material costs, U.S. women's apparel makers kept a tight lid on prices last month, according to the Labor Department's Producer Price Index released Tuesday. Wholesale prices for women's apparel in November dropped 0.3 percent from October and against November 1993 were down 0.4 percent. Dave Link, economist with the American Textile Manufacturers Institute, said it might be awhile before increased textile prices are reflected by apparel makers, given the competitive pressures at all ends of the fashion industry. As women's apparel prices turned downward after a brief upward blip of 0.4 percent in October, wholesale prices for all finished goods shot up 0.5 percent in November, due largely to a 2.1 percent hike in energy prices that reversed two months of declines. Although an increase in energy prices, if sustained, could portend higher producer prices overall, economists aren't concerned inflation is creeping into the economy, citing the back-to-back 0.5 percent drops in the index during October and September. The rate of inflation for all finished goods is running at a modest 1.3 percent increase against November 1993, and just 0.1 percent when the volatile energy and food prices are taken out of the equation. Prices for all apparel last month posted a slim 0.2 percent increase against November 1993 and declined 0.2 percent for the month. Prices at the producer level for girls', children's and infants' apparel in November were off 1 percent against October and down 1.8 percent over the year. Wholesale prices for men's and boys' apparel were unchanged for the month and up 0.9 percent from November 1993. Among the separate women's apparel categories showing large price fluctuations last month were blouses and shirts, down 3.8 percent for the month and down 2.8 percent from year-ago levels, and leather coats and jackets, off 3.4 percent for the month and down 11.1 percent over the year. Wholesale prices for women's knit outerwear, sports shirts and sweatshirts dropped 1.3 percent in November and were up 4.5 percent from November 1993, as prices for dresses increased 0.1 percent for the month and decreased 4.3 percent over the year. Meanwhile, raw cotton prices in November increased 8.4 percent against October, making up for a 9.1 percent decline in October. In September, cotton prices increased 2.8 percent. Compared with November 1993, cotton prices last month were up 35.3 percent. Wholesale prices for synthetic fibers dropped 0.6 percent in November and were down 0.7 percent from November 1993, as prices for processed yarns and thread increased 0.3 percent for the month and were up 2.4 percent over the year. Prices for gray goods were up 0.4 percent in November and up 0.1 percent from year-ago levels, while prices for finished fabrics increased 0.3 percent for the month and were up 0.4 percent over the year. An index of selected textile products in November increased 0.5 percent against October, the largest monthly hike this year. Since November 1993, textile prices were up 0.2 percent. Carl Priestland, economist with the American Apparel Manufacturers Association, said the hike in cotton prices is what apparel makers will likely feel the most. "I've been concerned about when this increase in raw cotton prices will show up for apparel," he said. Nevertheless, apparel makers might absorb some of the price increase. "There's enormous competition out there," he said. "If your prices get out of hand, you're not going to last long."
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