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Mixed Results for Apparel Prices

WASHINGTON — Wholesale prices for domestically produced women’s apparel showed some signs of strength in October, with an uptick of 0.7 percent, but continued to decline on an annual basis, the Labor Department reported Friday in its...

WASHINGTON — Wholesale prices for domestically produced women’s apparel showed some signs of strength in October, with an uptick of 0.7 percent, but continued to decline on an annual basis, the Labor Department reported Friday in its Producer Price Index.

Compared with October 2001, women’s apparel prices at the producer level fell 1.2 percent last month.

Wholesale prices for all U.S. produced apparel rose 0.6 percent in October against September, but fell 0.8 percent from year-ago levels. Prices for girls’, children’s and infants’ apparel rose 0.9 percent last month and gained 2.7 percent against October 2001.

“Barring another terrorist attack or sniper incident like the one in the Washington area, we will see a lift in consumer confidence as well as a shift in spending patterns to apparel and that could give apparel makers a little leverage,” said John Mothersole, senior economist and principal at the WEFA Group. “Apparel may in fact be one of the sectors that is at the leading edge of the market transformation [strengthening prices] in 2003.”

Charles McMillion, chief economist at MBG Information Services, said he doesn’t “give any credibility” to the slight uptick in apparel prices.

“Overall price pressures are intense,” McMillion said. “There was an uptick in consumer confidence in early November with the corresponding rally in the stock market, but everybody is still looking toward a tough holiday season due to so much uncertainty, such as a war with Iraq.”

He added that “relentless pressure” from imports also continues to dampen prices.

Mothersole wasn’t as bullish about the overall wholesale price index, despite a jump in October. The price index for all U.S.-made goods jumped 1.1 percent, marking the biggest increase in nearly two years. Excluding the big spike in gasoline costs, overall wholesale prices rose by 0.6 percent.

Mothersole called the overall increase an anomaly, claiming it was driven by skyrocketing energy prices, particularly gasoline, which he said have already fallen this month, as have light-vehicle prices.

“Given the markers we are seeing, goods price inflation will back off a little in the next couple of months,” Mothersole said. “We are probably a quarter or two away from the kind of condition that gives manufacturers the leverage to push through price increases.”

Wholesale prices for domestically produced women’s skirts, slacks, jeans and dungarees, as well as blouses, brassieres and nightwear, remained unchanged in October. Wholesale prices for dresses fell 0.3 percent in October and dropped 2.7 percent against October 2001.

Domestically produced prices for sweaters, jackets and jerseys fell 6.4 percent last month and plunged 14 percent against a year ago, while prices for knit sportshirts and sweatshirts fell 0.6 percent in October and fell 5.6 percent against October 2001.