Byline: Joanna Ramey

WASHINGTON — Deflation resumed its march in the women’s apparel industry in February as retail prices declined a seasonally adjusted 2.7 percent, reversing a 1.1 percent gain in January, the Labor Department reported Friday in its Consumer Price Index.
“It’s corrected itself,” said Robert Untracht, national director of retail services, Ernst & Young. “The trend will continue to be slightly downward for the rest of the year.”
January’s larger-than-expected leap was blamed on muddied data caused by the federal government shutdown and January’s blizzard that kept data collectors out of the stores until the third week of the month. Consequently, after-Christmas sales weren’t entirely captured in the numbers.
While February’s price report does reflect the continued pressure on retailers to keep prices low, it also picked up heavy winter markdowns, a Labor analyst said.
Compared with February 1995, women’s apparel prices last month declined 1.1 percent, the seventh consecutive month in which the year-over-year deflation in women’s apparel prices has been slowing. The year-over-year prices hit their last low point in June when they fell 5.8 percent against June 1994.
“It is reasonable to assume prices will continue to moderate,” said Irwin Cohen, chairman of Deloitte & Touche’s Trade, Retail and Distribution Group.
All apparel prices declined 1 percent in February, compared with a 0.2 percent increase for all consumer goods. Over the year, apparel prices increased 0.1 percent, as prices for all products at retail increased 2.7 percent.
Men’s apparel prices increased 1 percent for the month and were up 1.2 percent over the year. Girls’ apparel prices declined 1.4 percent in February and were down 0.6 percent over the 12-month period, as boys’ apparel prices dipped 0.5 percent for the month and were down 1.5 percent against February 1995.
Within the separate women’s apparel categories tracked by the government, prices for coats and jackets declined 3.6 percent for the month and were up 3.8 percent from February 1995, as dress prices declined 7.1 percent in February and were off 5.8 percent during the 12-month period.
Suit prices dipped 2 percent last month and were up 0.4 percent against February 1995. Prices for separates and sportswear declined 2.7 percent in February and were down 2.6 percent over the year.
Prices for underwear, nightwear, hosiery and accessories, however, increased 1.7 percent for the month and were up 3.8 percent during the 12-month period.

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