Byline: Joanna Ramey

WASHINGTON — Wholesale prices in the domestic women’s apparel industry are continuing to edge up in tiny increments.
During August they increased 0.2 percent for the fourth consecutive monthly uptick, the Labor Department reported Friday in its Producer Price Index.
Prices for all finished goods rose 0.3 percent to end a seven-month streak of declines.
On a year-to-year basis, women’s apparel prices at the producer level last month increased 0.8 percent against August 1996, as prices for all finished goods fell 0.2 percent.
The ability of apparel makers to continue pushing through monthly price increases reflects the strengthening of retail sales, says Carl Priestland, economist with the American Apparel Manufacturers Association.
Regardless of improving apparel sales, however, domestic manufacturers remain under pressure from retailers to keep prices in check since consumers are largely still looking for value-priced clothing, Priestland said.
“The competition from imports is still there and of course there is still a lot of competition among domestic companies,” he said.
Sandra Shaber, an economist with the WEFA Group, Philadelphia, called the continuing edging ahead of wholesale women’s apparel prices “a bit of a turnaround” for the industry. She also views competition as helping to keep prices in check. Manufacturers, in turn, are under the gun to run efficient, lean operations, a task easier to undertake in an economy with such low overall inflation, she said.
All wholesale apparel prices in August increased 0.2 percent against July and were up 0.7 percent over the year. Producer prices for men’s and boys’ apparel declined 0.1 percent for the month and were up 0.5 percent from August 1996. For girls’, children’s and infants’ apparel, wholesale prices dipped 1 percent in August against July and were up 1 percent from year-ago levels.
Meanwhile, producer prices for textiles in August increased 0.4 percent against July, but compared to August 1996 prices were unchanged. The month-to-month increase reversed a 0.6 percent drop in July, reflecting volatility in the carpet and rug market, said David Link chief economist, the American Textile Manufacturers Institute.
The carpet and rug market aside, textile prices have remained virtually unchanged over the year, reflecting raw material prices that have remained relatively stable. Likewise, mills haven’t raised their prices, given the price pressures apparel makers are under to produce value-price garments, Link said.
However, the uptick in consumer spending has been a boon for textile business. In July, textile shipments reached a record $6.9 billion, a 2.9 percent increase against June. On a year-to-date basis, shipments are up 4.8 percent.
“Consumers are shopping again, which is a good sign for us,” Link said.
New orders for textiles are also strengthening, posting a 4.6 percent increase to $6.9 billion in July against June, reversing three months of declines. This was the largest monthly increase since November 1996. In addition, unfilled orders in July were up 13 percent from year-ago levels.
Among the textile prices tracked by the government, synthetic fiber prices in August increased 0.1 percent against July and were off 0.9 percent from year-ago levels, as prices for processed yarns and threads declined 0.2 percent month and were down 0.4 percent from August 1996.
Prices for gray goods dipped 0.1 percent for the month and were up 0.4 percent from year-ago levels. Prices for finished fabrics declined 0.1 percent for the month and were down 0.2 over the year. Raw cotton prices in August increased 4.6 percent, but were down 6.5 percent over the 12 months.
Notable price changes during August within women’s apparel were registered on skirts, which declined 0.3 percent for the month and year. Suit prices increased 5.2 percent for the month, but dropped 8 percent from year-ago levels. Wholesale prices for dresses increased 0.1 percent in August and were up 1.2 percent from year-ago levels, as prices for tailored jackets increased 3.4 percent for the month, but were down 0.8 percent over the year. Jeans and trouser prices were unchanged in August and increased 1.2 percent from August 1996.

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