WASHINGTON — Retail prices for women’s apparel bounced back in October, increasing a seasonally adjusted 0.3 percent against September, the Labor Department reported Tuesday in its Consumer Price Index.However, compared with October 2001, women’s apparel prices last month declined 2 percent, a continuation of year-over-year declines.Meanwhile, all apparel prices for the month remained unchanged, but fell 2.1 percent from year-ago levels. Girls’ retail apparel prices fell 0.6 percent in October against September, but gained 2.5 percent against October 2001.The slight uptick in apparel prices in the past few months is "one more sign that perhaps the worst of the price cutting and deflation in the apparel sector is over," said Frank Badillo, senior retail economist with Retail Forward Inc. "As apparel retailers have streamlined inventories, they have held the line better on prices."Apparel retail prices hit a low in July, but rose slightly in August and September."It suggests that, at the very least, prices aren’t falling dramatically in apparel and, in fact, may be holding up a little better entering the holiday," Badillo said. "That should help retailers keep profit margins up for the holiday, if it can continue."He said retailers have used the price cuts this year to clear merchandise and bring inventories under control. He also expects retailers to continue to cut prices, but not as deeply as a year ago.John Mothersole, senior economist and principal at the WEFA Group, said apparel prices are the weakest major component of the CPI at the moment."They are the one thing acting to hold down escalation in the overall index," he said.But Mothersole claimed apparel retail prices should continue to strengthen and stabilize through the holidays.In the overall economy, all retail prices rose 0.3 percent, driven by volatile energy prices. Excluding energy and food prices, the CPI was up 0.2 percent.In the four categories tracked by the government, dress prices fell 0.4 percent in October against September, but rose 1.4 percent from year-ago levels; outerwear prices fell 4.7 percent in the month and 2.5 percent against October 2001; suits and separates prices rose 3 percent in October against September, but fell 1.7 percent compared with a year ago, and underwear, nightwear and accessories prices rose 0.9 percent last month, but fell 4.6 percent against the year-ago period.

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