FEBRUARY RETAIL PRICES INCREASE 0.2 PERCENT

Byline: Alison Maxwell

WASHINGTON — Retail prices of women’s apparel rebounded in February after falling 2.1 percent in January, according to Labor Department figures released Friday.
Prices rose 0.2 percent for the month, primarily due to the introduction of full-price spring and summer apparel, a Labor economist said. January’s drop was the largest since August 1989, when prices also declined 2.1 percent.
Year-over-year prices dropped 0.2 percent — the smallest such decrease since November 1998. The economist attributed the slim decrease to the strength in the women’s suits and separates category, which increased 6.3 percent, not seasonally adjusted, for the month. The last time women’s apparel prices increased year-over-year was in October 1998.
Women’s outerwear prices dropped 0.7 percent for the month and 2.6 percent for the year. Traditionally volatile women’s dress prices dropped 5.6 percent in February and 3.3 percent year-over-year.
“Dresses just aren’t selling as well as they used to,” the Labor economist said. “Women are moving more toward suits and separates and casual wear.”
Retail prices for all apparel were up 0.2 percent for the month but down 0.4 percent for the year.
Overall, consumer prices increased 0.5 percent for the month, after rising 0.2 percent in January. February’s gain was the biggest since April. In the year, the Consumer Price Index rose 3.2 percent, the largest year-over-year increase since December 1996, when it was 3.3 percent.
Excluding surging energy and food costs, prices increased 0.2 percent in February. Energy prices for consumers rose 4.6 percent for the month, the largest increase since a 6.0 percent increase in April. For the year, the core index increased 2.1 percent.
“I will continue to watch the extent to which higher energy prices are being passed on to consumers,” Labor Secretary Alexis Herman said in a statement. “Today’s report on consumer prices indicates that inflation remains limited to the energy sector.”
Still, Federal Reserve policy-makers are expected to raise interest rates to ward off inflation when they meet Tuesday.

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