WASHINGTON — Wholesale prices for domestically produced women’s apparel rose 0.3 percent in October, as retailers eased up on discounting, economists said.

This story first appeared in the November 17, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

For the 12 months, wholesale prices for women’s apparel made in the U.S. fell 0.2 percent, according to the Labor Department’s Producer Price Index released Friday.

The wholesale prices for all domestically produced apparel mirrored the women’s prices, with a 0.3 percent gain for the month, but a 0.2 percent decline compared with October 2002. Producer prices for girls’, children’s and infants’ apparel remained unchanged last month and rose 0.7 percent against a year ago.

“It is a reflection of demand, which is starting to improve, and therefore, we don’t see the acute competitive pressure that we did earlier in the year or in 2002,” said John Mothersole, chief economist with Global Insight. “I took this to mean the back-to-school season was pretty good and this reinforces the idea that apparel markets and retailers might see a reasonably good Christmas season.”

For all finished goods, producer prices rose 0.8 percent for the month, driven primarily by rising food prices.

“There is a debate on how the market reads this, if there are fears of inflation and whether the Federal Reserve will step in to take control [by raising interest rates],” Mothersole said. “If the glass is half full, you see this as a sign of margins being restored and profit growth looking better next year.”

Meanwhile, wholesale prices for gray fabrics rose 1.4 percent in October, but fell 0.3 percent for the year, while finished fabric prices remained unchanged for the month and fell 0.2 percent against October 2002.

Wholesale prices for the majority of women’s apparel categories tracked by the Labor Department remained unchanged in October, but were still well below October 2002.

Prices for knit outerwear, sport shirts and sweatshirts were flat last month, but fell 4.5 percent against a year ago, while wholesale prices for slacks, jeans and dungarees remained unchanged, but fell 2.3 percent compared with October 2002.

Domestically produced prices for dresses were flat last month, but fell 1.8 percent against a year ago, and prices for blouses and shirts were even in October, but fell 1 percent year over year.

Prices for skirts were flat last month, but rose 0.4 percent compared with October 2002. Prices for finished sheer hosiery and tights fell 1 percent in October, but rose 7.8 percent against a year ago.

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