Byline: Joanna Ramey

WASHINGTON — Wholesale prices for domestically produced women’s apparel declined 0.3 percent in March against February, reflecting the ongoing competitive pressures from low-priced imports in a softening retail market, the Labor Department reported Thursday.
Compared to March 2000, wholesale prices for U.S.-made women’s apparel last month continued their long-term downward trend, falling 1.3 percent.
“Competition gets tightest in a downturn. Retailers have to have more promotions, and they go to producers and ask for promotional goods,” is how Carl Priestland, an apparel industry analyst, sized up the deflation facing U.S. garment producers. “The retailers are, in fact, pushing everybody against the wall.”
For all apparel, wholesale prices last month declined 0.2 percent against February and fell 0.7 percent from March 2000. In the overall economy, a 2.6 percent drop in energy prices helped to push wholesale prices for all domestically produced goods down 0.1 percent, signaling little risk of inflation ahead. Absent the volatile energy and food prices, wholesale prices edged up 0.1 percent last month.
Meanwhile, bathing suits posted the largest declines in wholesale prices among the categories of U.S.-made women’s apparel tracked by the government. Wholesale prices for the category fell 13.2 percent in March against February and plunged 19.6 percent against March 2000.
Wholesale prices for dresses increased 0.6 percent for the month, but were down 4.6 percent over the year, as prices for slacks and jeans remained unchanged in March against February and dropped 2.7 percent from year-ago levels. Producer prices for knit outerwear sport shirts, including sweatshirts, fell 1.4 percent for the month, but were up 0.8 percent over the 12 months. Skirt prices were unchanged for the month and increased 1.8 percent from a year ago.