WASHINGTON — Retail apparel prices fell for a second consecutive month in February, as a drop in women’s apparel prices contributed to the decline in the apparel index, the U.S. Labor Department reported Tuesday in its Consumer Price Index.
Prices on all apparel sold at retail fell a seasonally adjusted 0.3 percent last month. Women’s retail apparel prices fell 1.3 percent, while prices for men’s apparel rose 1.2 percent. Girls’ apparel prices rose 0.8 percent, while boy’s apparel prices fell 2 percent.
Kyle Hillman, an associate economist at Moody’s Analytics, said retail apparel prices have been affected by several factors.
“From a broad macro standpoint, we are in a relatively slow economic recovery,” Hillman said. “Consumers may be wary to go out and buy new clothes as a result and are a little more tepid, and retailers might be cutting prices to get them into stores.”
Hillman also attributed some of the weakness in prices to severe winter weather, which has prevented consumers from getting to malls and stores.
“Harsh weather with the cold and snow made it difficult for consumers to get out to stores,” he said. “Part of the price declines might be [retailers] trying to lead them back in.”
Women’s apparel prices at retail were impacted in February, after showing some strength in January. Within the category, retail prices for suits and separates fell a seasonally adjusted 1.4 percent, while prices for outerwear declined 0.7 percent. Prices for the broad category that includes underwear, nightwear, sportswear and accessories were flat, while retail prices for dresses rose 0.5 percent.
Men’s retail prices appeared to be a little more resilient in February after falling in January. Prices for the combined category of suits, sport coats and outerwear rose 1.9 percent, while retail prices for pants and shorts increased 1.8 percent. Prices for furnishings and, separately, shirts and sweaters rose 0.1 percent respectively.
The overall CPI edged up 0.1 percent in February, slightly below economists’ expectations. The core index, which excludes volatile food and energy prices, was also up 0.1 percent.
“Overall, the consumer inflation story is relatively bland,” said Chris G. Christopher, Jr., director of consumer economics at IHS Global Insight. “However, higher food and natural gas service prices are painful to the millions of Americans who live paycheck to paycheck. On a positive note, the falling gasoline prices assist in absorbing the rising food costs.”