WOMEN’S WHOLESALE PRICES UP 0.1% IN JAN.

Byline: Joanna Ramey

WASHINGTON — Wholesale prices for domestically produced women’s apparel continued to be kept in check in January, increasing 0.1 percent against December as prices for all finished goods declined 0.3 percent, the Labor Department reported Friday.
Compared with January 1996, women’s apparel prices last month were up 0.2 percent, with year-over-year prices for all finished goods up 2.5 percent.
Carl Priestland, economist at the American Apparel Manufacturers Association, said pressure has heightened on domestic apparel producers to keep a lid on prices due to increased competition from imports. Lower-priced apparel imports have increased in recent months after remaining static for the first nine months of last year.
Priestland said that a now well-documented consumer desire to buy quality apparel at value prices has helped fuel this uptick in imports, a phenomenon dogging mid-market specialty and department stores in particular.
“There is a dichotomy in this marketplace. Very expensive apparel is selling well. The rest of the apparel still is tied to quality and value prices,” he said.
All apparel prices for the month declined 0.2 percent and for the year were up 0.3 percent. Prices for men’s and boys’ apparel in January declined 0.2 percent and were up 0.5 percent against January 1996. Girls’, children’s and infants’ apparel at the wholesale level were unchanged for the month and posted a year-over-year increase of 1.6 percent.
Low inflation at the producer and consumer levels is an economy-wide issue, helping to feed the record surge in the stock market, said Bob Barr, assistant economist at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. A buoyant stock market, however, typically doesn’t prompt increases in consumer spending, but only increases in consumer confidence, Barr said.
A strong stock market means that consumers’ retirement accounts, savings and investment plans are doing well, but an analysis of money-on-hand is needed to determine the prospects of increased retail sales, Barr said, noting how consumer debt is still advancing faster than income. Speculation of a potential stock market correction also could be putting the brakes on buying, he added.
“The link between a strong stock market and consumer spending isn’t that strong,” Barr said.
Meanwhile, domestically produced textile mill products in January were unchanged against December and were up 0.9 percent over the year. Synthetic fiber prices increased 1.3 percent for the month and were up 2.1 percent against January 1996, as prices for processed yarns increased 0.1 percent in January and rose 0.4 percent over the 12-month period.
Prices for gray fabrics dipped 0.2 percent for the month and were up 0.5 percent against year-ago levels, as finished fabric prices declined 0.3 percent in January against December and were up 0.6 percent over the 12-month period.
Among the women’s apparel categories with significant price swings in January were skirts, which dropped 2.9 percent in price for the month and were off 0.7 percent over the year. Prices for sweaters, jackets and jerseys increased 1.3 percent for the month and were up 1.2 percent against January 1996, as prices for dresses posted a 0.3 percent monthly decline and increased 0.7 percent over the year.
Prices for robes, dressing gowns and housecoats increased 3.2 percent for the month and were up 5.5 percent against January 1996, as prices for bathing suits posted a monthly increase of 2.1 percent and were up 21.7 percent against year-ago levels.

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