WASHINGTON — Women’s retail apparel prices crept up last month, but in yearly comparisons they rose at a slower rate than overall consumer prices.

This story first appeared in the September 17, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Retail prices for women’s apparel increased a seasonally adjusted 1.9 percent in August, but compared with a year earlier, prices were up a slimmer 0.9 percent, the Labor Department said Tuesday in its Consumer Price Index. The August increase follows a 2.1 percent advance in prices in July.

Kenneth Beauchemin, U.S. economist at Global Insight, said year-to-year comparisons give a better read on a product’s pricing than monthly numbers.

“If you look at the year-over-year change, which is the better thing to do, apparel prices have risen a lot slower than the Consumer Price Index as a whole, which is another way of saying apparel prices are becoming relatively cheaper over the last year,” Beauchemin said.

Prices primarily have been held down by productivity gains the industry has achieved to help offset rising input prices in areas such as synthetic fabrics made from oil-based substances, he said.

The so-called core prices, which exclude the volatile food and fuel sectors, increased 0.2 percent in August and 2.5 percent compared with a year ago.

The relatively small increase in core prices suggested that “short-lived inflation concerns may be ending and are certainly far less important than concerns for jobs and economic growth,” said Charles McMillion, president and chief economist, MBG Information Services.

Apparel prices as a whole increased 0.5 percent last month and 1.7 percent year-to-year. Girls’ apparel prices advanced 2.8 percent in August and climbed 1.8 percent over last year.

Apparel prices last month were in line with usual trends, said Malinda Harrell, an economist at the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The increases were created primarily by excessive early discounting in August last year.

“This year is more on par. That’s why it’s showing price increases,” she said.

Within the women’s category, suits and separates increased 3 percent from the prior month and 1.4 percent from August 2007. Women’s outerwear prices were 2.9 percent higher in August and 1.6 percent more than a year earlier. Women’s dress prices slid 0.1 percent for the month, but increased 1.3 percent for the year. Accessories and intimates fell 0.3 percent for the month and 0.6 percent compared with the previous year.

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