WASHINGTON — Wholesale apparel and textile price inflation moderated in March, as soaring cotton prices continued to impact the supply chain, but at a slower pace, the Labor Department’s Producer Price Index showed Thursday.

Most textile categories either saw prices fall for the month or posted minimal increases, although year-to-year price comparisons were still substantial.

Domestically produced knit fabrics, which posted double-digit increases in February, fell 15.3 percent in March but were up 14 percent for the year. Textile mill apparel fabric prices were up 0.2 percent in March compared to February, and rose 10.3 percent from a year earlier. Wholesale prices for spun cotton yarns rose 2.3 percent in March and spiked 24.9 percent against a year earlier. Domestically produced carded cotton yarn prices increased 6.8 percent in March and soared 85.4 percent for the 12 months.

Wholesale prices for greige fabrics rose 2.4 percent in the month and 10.3 percent for the year, while prices for finished fabrics fell 1.1 percent last month but increased 5.4 percent against a year earlier.

Wholesale price inflation for the month was also weaker in U.S.-made apparel, which posted a price increase of 0.3 percent for the month. On a year-to-year basis, apparel prices were up 2.2 percent. Prices for women’s apparel rose 0.1 percent in March and were 0.4 percent above the year earlier level, while prices for men’s apparel gained 0.4 percent last month and were 3.5 percent higher than March 2010.

The PPI is not considered a major indicator for apparel because only a small percentage of goods sold at retail are made here, but it is a strong barometer for the U.S. textile industry, which makes a significant amount of yarns and apparel fabric that are exported for apparel production elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere. The Consumer Price Index for March, considered a better gauge for retail apparel prices, will be released today.

Wholesale prices for all goods and services were up 0.7 percent in March, due primarily to higher gas prices.

 

Core producer prices, which exclude volatile food and energy prices, rose 0.3 percent in March.

“While core prices accelerated slightly, very few industries are in a position to pass through recent sharp increases in energy and commodity prices, as noted in the latest Fed Beige Book survey,” said Brian Bethune, chief U.S. financial economist at IHS Global Insight.

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