WASHINGTON — Wholesale prices of U.S.-made women’s apparel increased 0.6 percent in April and 0.7 percent from a year ago, the Labor Department reported Tuesday.

Seasonally adjusted wholesale prices on all domestically produced apparel were flat last month and inched up 0.3 percent from a year ago, according to the Producer Price Index. Prices on all finished wholesale goods rose 0.6 percent for the month and were up 4.8 percent compared with a year ago. Excluding the volatile food and energy sector, overall prices were up 0.3 percent for the month, the biggest rise in three months.

Textile and apparel increases stemmed from higher costs, particularly for energy, said Charles McMillion, president and chief economist at MBG Information Services. Oil prices have risen 17.5 percent from a year ago, with a barrel of crude at $48.61.

“Domestic producers have very little pricing power,” McMillion said. “They’re facing a lot of very low-priced imports. Producers are being squeezed quite severely.”

In categories of women’s apparel showing significant changes, misses’ and juniors’ swimwear prices jumped 9.6 percent during the month but were down 5.5 percent versus a year ago. Prices on women’s and girls’ underwear were up 5 percent for the month and the year.

Among those feeling the pricing pinch is Robert Bock, president of 525 America, a sweater firm with about 25 percent of its production in New York City.

“Prices are rising slightly for everything,” he said, noting specifically that yarn prices have gone up 15 to 20 percent from a year ago. “Because there are fewer knitters, finishers and dyers, they’ve all raised their prices. It’s supply and demand.”

Bock, whose firm is looking for sales of about $22 million this year, said he has kept to trendier goods to keep prices up.

“On the basics, you can’t increase your prices,” he said. “On fashion you can, but only a little.”

On the textile side, U.S.-made synthetic fiber prices rose 1.1 percent last month and 6.1 percent from a year ago. Greige goods prices rose 1 percent in April and 2.3 percent over 12 months.

This story first appeared in the May 18, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

A separate report from the Federal Reserve showed that output from apparel and leather manufacturers rose 0.9 percent last month but was down 8.8 percent from a year ago. Output from textile mills fell 0.8 percent for the month and was flat with a year ago.

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