WASHINGTON — Retail prices for women’s apparel during October increased a seasonally adjusted 0.8 percent, more than reversing September’s 0.3 percent decline, the Labor Department reported Tuesday in its Consumer Price Index.

This story first appeared in the November 19, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

However, compared with October 2002, women’s apparel prices last month continued their long-term deflationary cycle with a 1.6 percent drop.

Although not declaring the pattern of lower prices over, Steve Spiwak, an economist with Retail Forward, said retailers might be able to push prices a bit higher this holiday season, since they have trimmed excess inventories and sales increases have been largely steady.

“Generally speaking, and especially compared with last year’s dismal results, apparel retailers are poised for a moderately healthy season, but not a blowout,” Spiwak said.

For all apparel, retail prices last month increased a seasonally adjusted 0.2 percent, as prices for girls’ apparel climbed 1.1 percent and men’s apparel rose 1.3 percent. Compared with a year ago, retail prices for all apparel were off 1.6 percent, as girls’ apparel dipped 0.2 percent and men’s dropped 1.8 percent.

In the overall economy, prices for all retail goods last month were flat, after increasing for four months. The October showing was largely pegged to a 3.9 percent drop in energy prices. When energy and a 0.6 percent rise in food prices are excluded, retail prices increased 0.2 percent.

Compared with a year ago, the overall retail price index rose 1.3 percent when the volatile food and energy were excluded, and spiked 2 percent when they were included. Since inflation seems to be in check, it’s widely viewed that the Federal Reserve will hold interest rates at their 45-year low when monetary policy regulators meet Dec. 9.

Meanwhile, in the categories of women’s apparel tracked by the government, retail prices for outerwear declined a seasonally adjusted 0.5 percent in October against September and dipped 0.3 percent from October 2002.

Prices for suits and separates jumped 1.3 percent for the month, but were off 3.8 percent over the year, as prices for dresses declined 0.1 percent in October and were up 1.3 percent over the 12 months. Prices for women’s underwear, nightwear, sportswear and accessories declined 0.4 percent for the month and climbed 1.1 percent from October 2002.

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