WASHINGTON — Although Black Friday was heavily promotional, retailers apparently shied away from steep discounts earlier in November, driving up women’s apparel a seasonally adjusted 0.9 percent, the largest such increase since January.
This story first appeared in the December 17, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The price bump and increases in the gasoline and transportation areas boosted the price of all goods and services 0.8 percent last month compared with 0.3 percent in October. That overall rise was the largest since Hurricane Katrina helped push up prices 1.2 percent in September 2005, according to the Labor Department Consumer Price Index released Friday.
Though the so-called core prices, excluding volatile food and energy goods, rose 0.3 percent, that was still more than the 0.2 percent expected by economists and enough to heighten inflation concerns. The increase broke a five-month run of 0.2 percent increases in core prices.
“It’s possible that retailers weren’t discounting as much leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday,” said Jessica Penvose, an economist at the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “There weren’t as many items that were being deeply discounted.”
Discounts of more than 50 percent dropped to 1.6 percent of the sample taken for the monthly survey, from 2.3 percent a year earlier, which Penvose said was statistically significant. Off-pricers and discounters seemed to fare the best when it came to holding the pricing line for the month.
“Those kinds of stores in our sample had a larger percent average increase than they usually do,” she said.
However, signs of higher prices, if they persist, could be enough to keep policy makers on the sidelines when it comes to stimulating economic growth. The Federal Reserve Board cut its benchmark federal funds interest rate a quarter point to 4.25 percent last week, but might hesitant on further adjustments if serious inflation seems to be taking hold. That move disappointed investors who were looking for a half-point reduction to help stem the economic slowdown.
Lower interest rates are intended to spur the economy by making it cheaper to borrow money for consumers and businesses. James Glassman, economist at J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., said one month of higher-than-anticipated inflation was not a concern.
“You’re supposed to access inflation based relative to the shocks that are going on in the oil markets and in the currency markets,” Glassman said, referring to high oil prices and the weakening dollar. “It’s pretty tame.”
Despite last month’s boost in women’s prices, the sector trend is generally deflationary, as retail consolidation heightens competition and the global supply chain becomes more efficient. Women’s apparel prices last month were 1.6 percent below a year earlier and down 3.4 percent from five years ago.
Suit and separates prices rose 1 percent compared with October and were down 2.2 percent from a year earlier. Dress prices increased 2.3 percent for the month, but fell 2.6 percent for the year.