Byline: Joanna Ramey

WASHINGTON — Women’s retail apparel prices in September grew a seasonally adjusted 1.4 percent against August, but dropped 3.2 percent compared with the same month a year ago, the Labor Department reported Friday.
The retail price report reflects pricing activity in department, specialty and mass retail stores from Sept. 1-24 and thus covers price activity since Sept. 11.
While retailers edged up women’s apparel prices for the month with the introduction of fall merchandise, September’s year-over-year decline better reflects the ongoing pressure stores are under to increase sales, a Labor analyst said.
September’s year-over-year decline was the fifth consecutive monthly drop.
“Demand remains fairly soft for clothing,” the analyst said. “And with the tragedy last month, consumers are that much more skittish.”
All retail apparel prices in September edged up 0.6 percent for the month and compared with September 2000, fell 2.8 percent. In the overall economy, retail prices for all consumer goods jumped 0.4 percent. This was the largest gain since May and largely reflects higher energy prices.
Andrew Hodge, senior vice president of the WEFA Group, forecast the economy to recover in earnest by the middle of next year, but said it won’t be led by consumer spending. Rather, a government economic stimulus and extended unemployment benefits and military spending will jump-start things, which in turn will boost consumer spending, he said.
For the time being, there will continue to be pressure for retailers to discount, he said.
“Consumers are cutting back,” he said. “It will probably be a fairly modest Christmas.”
Labor reported that women’s outerwear prices in September increased 1.2 percent for the month and rose 0.4 percent from year-ago levels, as prices for suits and separates jumped 9.8 percent for the month, but fell 4.9 percent from September 2000. Dress prices increased 7 percent for the month and increased 0.7 percent over year, as prices for underwear, nightwear and accessories declined 1.3 percent in September against August, and dropped 2.7 percent over the year.