WASHINGTON — Retail prices for women’s apparel surged upward by 1.5 percent in March against February as concerns about inflation in the overall economy increased, the Labor Department’s Consumer Price Index revealed Wednesday.
March retail prices for women’s apparel improved slightly over February’s, but were still 0.2 percent lower compared with March 2003. Consumer prices for girls’ apparel rose a significant 2.2 percent for the month and 3.1 percent against a year ago.
For all apparel, retail prices rose 0.9 percent for the month, but fell a slight 0.1 percent compared with March 2003.
“For apparel, two things were at work: a strong demand for spring clothing, and a more disciplined inventory management in the apparel sector, which resulted in fewer markdowns,” said Steve Spiwak, senior economist at Retail Forward. “What we are seeing now is a potent mix of larger tax refunds and stronger job growth, which is fattening consumers’ wallets and making them more willing to spend.”
Charles McMillion, president of MBG Information Services, said, “Today’s report adds to recent positive information about the industry’s moderating job losses and increasing output, to indicate much-needed stability and growth for the rapidly consolidating industry.”
Overall retail prices rose 0.5 percent in March, driven again by a sharp rise in energy costs, which fueled speculation of inflation. Stripping out volatile food and energy costs, the CPI rose 0.4 percent, the biggest increase in more than two years.
“The [Federal Reserve] is starting to get a hint of inflation,” said Michael J. Donnelly, senior economist at Global Insight.
Donnelly cited several factors, including an improving economy and rising commodity prices driven by energy.
In women’s apparel, retail prices for dresses jumped 4.8 percent in the month and 3.2 percent year-over-year. Prices for outerwear rose 3.7 percent last month, but fell 5.2 percent against March 2003.
Consumer prices for suits and separates gained 2.4 percent in March and were up 0.6 percent against a year ago, while prices for underwear, nightwear, sportswear and accessories fell 1.7 percent for the month and 2.1 percent for the year.