WASHINGTON — Retail apparel prices rose for the first time in three months in May, increasing a seasonally adjusted 0.2 percent, primarily driven by an uptick in the men’s and girls’ areas.
The increase in May came off of a three-month slide in retail apparel prices that began in February, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which released its monthly Consumer Price Index report on Tuesday.
Women’s apparel prices bucked the trend and declined 0.4 percent in May. Within the category, dress prices dropped 1.8 percent last month, while prices for suits and separates slid 1.3 percent and combined prices for underwear, nightwear, sportswear and accessories fell 0.2 percent. The outerwear category showed the only pricing strength in May, with a 3.4 percent increase.
Men’s apparel prices were up 0.2 percent. In that category, prices for shirts and sweaters rose 1.3 percent, while prices for pants and shorts increased 0.6 percent and prices for furnishings rose 0.4 percent.
Combined prices for suits, sport coats and outerwear fell 1 percent. Girls’ apparel prices were up 1 percent, while boys’ apparel prices dipped 0.3 percent.
“We have had three straight months of negative readings in the apparel index,” said Jeet Dutta, senior economist at Moody’s Analytics, with apparel prices falling 0.1 percent in February, 1 percent in March and 0.3 percent in April.
“Taking a slightly longer view, it does seem apparel prices have been quite stable,” Dutta said, noting prices were up an unadjusted 0.2 percent compared with May 2012. “This is one category where you would not typically expect a lot of pricing power because a lot of manufacturing has moved overseas and there is a lot of price competition among those vendors. Aside from the month-to-month fluctuations, you would not expect there to be a steady or persistent price power in this category, and that is what you have seen over the past year.”
The overall CPI also rose 0.1 percent in May, after falling 0.4 percent in April. The core CPI, excluding the volatile food and energy sectors, edged up 0.2 percent last month.
“The overall consumer price picture is quite flat, near roughly 1.5 percent annual inflation, down from about 2 percent a year ago,” said Michael Montgomery, U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight. “Consumers may not notice that minor deceleration, but they may notice that their grocery bill stopped climbing and gasoline prices are flat. Inflation has faded to only a minor irritant, and that could put consumers into a better frame of mind until they realize that their next pay raise will likely be equally restrained.”