WASHINGTON — U.S.-made apparel prices edged up 0.1 percent in March and were 3 percent higher than a year earlier, the Labor Department’s Producer Price Index showed Thursday.

Wholesale prices in the overall economy remained unchanged, as energy prices fell on a seasonally adjusted basis. The core PPI index, excluding volatile food and energy prices and a key gauge of inflation, inched up 0.3 percent in March, the fourth straight monthly increase.

 

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“The year-over-year gains deceleration tells the real story — price pressures have eased but are not gone, because of recession in Europe and slowing output growth in China,” said Nigel Gault, chief U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight. “Deceleration of price gains will slow later this year to leave price increases in the moderate zone. The month-to-month change story is mostly timing quirks yielding little new information.”

Women’s and girls’ domestically made apparel prices fell 0.5 percent in March but were 1 percent higher than March 2011. In the category, tailored jackets and vests declined 1.5 percent last month but were 6.1 percent above a year earlier, while wholesale prices on knit shirts and blouses dipped 1.2 percent in March and 1.3 percent year-to-year. Prices on woven shirts and blouses fell 1.1 percent last month and were 4.2 percent below a year earlier. U.S.-made prices on shorts and tennis skirts rose 3.1 percent in the month and for the year.

Men’s and boys’ apparel prices rose 1.5 percent last month and were up 8 percent year-over-year. In the category, wholesale prices on jeans and casual slacks spiked 16.4 percent in March and were 17.9 percent higher than a year earlier. Prices on trousers, pants and slacks increased 3.5 percent last month and were up 16.4 percent year-over-year. Men’s work clothing prices rose 1.1 percent in March and were 4.5 percent above a year earlier.

While there has been some bump in domestically made apparel, the vast majority is still imported. The Consumer Price Index, set to be released on Friday, is a better gauge of industry price fluctuation because it includes all goods sold at retail.

Further down the pipeline, yarn prices increased 0.3 percent in the month but were 10.2 percent below a year earlier, largely reflecting the steep drop in raw cotton prices from last year. Prices on finished fabrics increased 0.1 percent in March and were 4.2 percent higher than March 2011. Wholesale prices on greige woven fabrics were up 0.8 percent in the month and 1.3 percent in the year. Prices on greige knit fabrics fell 1.1 percent in the month but were 0.2 percent higher than a year earlier.

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