WASHINGTON — Retail apparel prices rebounded somewhat in March, following two months of declines, the U.S. Labor Department reported Tuesday in its Consumer Price Index.
Prices on all apparel sold at retail rose a seasonally adjusted 0.3 percent, after falling 0.3 percent in February. Women’s retail apparel prices increased 0.3 percent, while prices for men’s apparel rose 0.1 percent. Girls’ apparel prices edged up 0.1 percent, while boy’s apparel prices fell 0.6 percent.
Jeet Dutta, senior economist at Moody’s Analytics, said improving weather in March helped spur consumer demand and spending and contributed to a 1.1 percent increase in retail sales last month, which in turn gave retailers a little more pricing power.
“It does seem there was some pent-up demand that was released in March and I would expect that to continue for the next couple of months on account of how hard the winter was,” Dutta said. “Even job growth was hurt by the winter weather, as hiring plans were postponed early this year. But as it started to normalize, job growth started strengthening, so that will be another support for stronger consumer demand and spending, which should support prices.”
Within the women’s category, retail prices for outerwear jumped a seasonally adjusted 4.5 percent in March, while prices for suits and separates rose 0.8 percent. Retail prices for the combined category of underwear, nightwear, sportswear and accessories increased 0.8 percent, while prices for dresses fell 3.6 percent.
In the men’s category, retail prices for shirts and sweaters rose 1.4 percent last month, while prices for pants and shorts increased 0.4 percent. Those gains were offset somewhat by a decline of 1.5 percent in retail prices for furnishings and a drop of 1 percent in retail prices for the combined category of suits, sport coats and outwear.
The overall CPI rose 0.2 percent in March after increasing 0.1 percent in February. The core index, which excludes volatile food and energy prices, was also up 0.2 percent.
“The main story in this report is the rise of food prices,” said Chris G. Christopher, Jr., director of consumer economics at IHS Global Insight. “Food price increases are expected to make further gains in the second quarter — a kick in the stomach for those households that have a hard time making ends meet.”
Christopher said the overall consumer inflation picture was “relatively bland,” but he cautioned that the rising food prices could dampen consumer spending.
“The direction of food prices is somewhat worrisome,” Christopher said. “Average consumers will have no cause to consider inflation rampant, but living standards will suffer as a larger percentage of household budgets are spent on grocery store bills, leaving less for discretionary spending.”