Byline: Joanna Ramey

WASHINGTON — Wholesale prices for domestically produced women’s apparel in January inched up 0.1 percent against December, the Labor Department reported Friday in its Producer Price Index.
Compared to January 2000, women’s apparel prices dropped 1 percent, in keeping with the recent pattern of wholesale price deflation for U.S.-made women’s apparel. The decline reflects ongoing competitive pressures in the market from low-cost imports and a fall-off in consumer spending.
In the overall economy, wholesale prices for all domestically produced goods in January shot up 1.1 percent against December.
The jump in the Producer Price Index, one of the government’s measures of inflationary pressures, was largely due to a rise in the price of natural gas, as well as food, cars and housing prices.
When the volatile categories of food and energy are factored out, the core rate of wholesale inflation last month still increased 0.7 percent, the largest increase in the core rate since a 0.1 percent increase in December 1998.
Next week’s report on retail prices should indicate whether the uptick in the wholesale inflation index is an aberration or if there are, indeed, price pressures at the producer level being passed on to retail, said Martin Regalia, chief economist with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
“We’ve seen many instances in the past where there have been big increases in the PPI and not a thing at the consumer level,” said Regalia.
However, he said there could very well be inflation creeping into the economy after being kept at bay for several years. With economic growth picking up a bit after coming to a virtual standstill toward the end of 2000, Regalia said price increases could easily be occurring in reaction.
Meanwhile, among the categories of U.S.-made women’s apparel tracked by Labor with significant price changes were sweaters, jackets and jerseys. Prices for the category were unchanged for the month, but fell 3.3 percent from January 2000.
Wholesale prices for dresses declined 1.5 percent for the month and were off 5.3 percent over the year, as producer prices for slacks and jeans increased 0.2 percent in January against December and fell 2.8 percent over the year.

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