WASHINGTON — Retail apparel prices rose a seasonally adjusted 1.6 percent in February as price gains were seen in the women’s and men’s categories, the U.S. Labor Department’s Consumer Price Index showed Wednesday.
Women’s wear showed the most strength, with a seasonally adjusted price increase of 1.9 percent, and men’s apparel prices rose 1.4 percent last month. Girl’s apparel prices were up 1.6 percent, while boys’ apparel prices, showing the only sign of weakness, fell 2.6 percent.
Ryan Sweet, director of real-time economics at Moody’s Analytics, said apparel price increases in January and February were likely temporary.
“Aggressive discounting in November, December and early January had likely run its course, and may have provided a little boost to apparel prices, but I don’t think that will stick,” Sweet said.
He noted that spring merchandise might also have hit shelves a little earlier this year due to warmer February weather resulting from the strong El Niño effect.
But Sweet said he expects to see apparel prices “resume falling in short order” as a result of a strong dollar and cheaper import prices.
“Imported Chinese producer prices haven’t shown any sign of bottoming out, and the dollar, which has moderated a little, will continue to appreciate and put downward pressure on imported apparel prices and that will feed through to consumer prices, as well,” Sweet said.
In women’s, price gains in outerwear led the category, rising 2.7 percent, followed by a 2.4 percent increase in prices in the combined underwear, sleepwear, sportswear and accessories category. Prices for suits and separates increased 1.7 percent, while prices for dresses rose 1.6 percent.
Men’s wear price gains were led by shirts and sweaters, which climbed 4 percent. Prices for furnishings increased 1.6 percent, while prices for pants and shorts rose 1 percent. The only sector showing any signs of pricing weakness was the combined suits, sport coats and outerwear area, where prices fell 1.9 percent.
In the overall economy, retail prices were down 0.2 percent, driven largely by falling energy prices. But core CPI prices, excluding volatile food and energy prices, rose 0.3 percent, marking the second straight monthly increase.
Chris G. Christopher Jr., U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight, said the top line CPI number has been in “either flat or in negative territory since December,” driven by a 13 percent drop in gasoline prices.
“Lower gasoline prices is good news for consumers, [but] higher food prices is a major negative,” Christopher said.
“Apparel prices have come back with a vengeance, up 1.6 percent in February, after a 0.6 percent increase in January,” he noted. “Apparel prices were taking continuous hits in the last half of 2015 due to a stronger dollar, a clothing inventory accumulation and unseasonably warmer weather. The warmer February weather may have spurred demand for the spring fashion cycle.”