Byline: Joanna Ramey

WASHINGTON — Wholesale prices for domestically produced women’s apparel in March were unchanged from February, the Labor Department reported Thursday.
Compared with a year ago, women’s apparel prices at the producer level were up 0.1 percent last month. The prices are quoted on a nonseasonally adjusted basis.
Women’s apparel prices have been fluctuating. They rose 0.1 percent in February, after dropping 0.3 percent in January and increasing 1.1 percent in December.
Producer prices for all apparel increased 0.2 percent for the month and were up 0.1 percent from March 1999. Wholesale prices for men’s and boys’ apparel last month were down 0.1 percent against February and increased 0.2 over the year.
Carl Priestland, an apparel industry analyst, said the robust economy and low inflation continue to keep U.S.-made apparel prices in check.
“If prices were going down, profits would be squeezed even more,” Priestland said.
The slight fluctuation in apparel prices overall occurred as wholesale prices for all manufactured goods jumped 1 percent, largely due to a sharp 5.8 percent gain in energy prices. This was the largest increase in energy prices since October 1990 when they leapt 7.5 percent. Energy prices also boosted producer prices on a year-ago basis, which surged 4 percent.
Minus volatile energy and food prices, the core rate of inflation in March increased a scant 0.1 percent against February.
The wholesale price index is a measure of inflation at the producer level. The government today will report on inflation at the retail level during March when it releases the Consumer Price Index.
Wholesale prices for textiles had a weak showing in March, declining 0.3 percent against February and dropping 0.9 over the year.
Synthetic fiber prices increased 0.3 percent for the month and were up 0.7 percent from March 1999. Processed yarn and thread prices were off 0.6 percent in March and down 1.7 percent for the 12-month period. Gray goods prices declined 3 percent for month and fell 7.1 percent from year-ago levels, as finished fabric prices were unchanged for the month and dipped 0.8 percent over the year.
Among the women’s apparel categories with notable price changes last month were sweaters, jackets and jerseys, which increased 0.2 percent against February and jumped 9.7 percent from March 1999. Suit prices dropped 6.8 percent during the month and were down 8.5 percent from year-ago levels, as blouse prices declined 0.9 percent in March and increased 3.5 percent during the 12-month period.