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Rising Retail Apparel, Footwear, Home Goods Prices Stoke Inflation Fears

Retail apparel prices rose a seasonally adjusted 0.4 percent in August after being flat in July, led by an uptick in the cost of men’s clothing, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Consumer Price Index (CPI) report released Tuesday, and leading to questions of whether inflation and holiday promotions will prevail this fall.

Men’s apparel prices were up 2.8 percent last month compared to July, with increases in every category except pants and shorts, which dipped 0.4 percent. Prices rose 7.9 percent for suits, sport coats and outerwear; 4.3 percent in shirts and sweaters, and 2.5 percent in the underwear, nightwear, swimwear and accessories group.

Women’s apparel prices declined 0.4 percent for the month, with decreases in every sector except the underwear, nightwear, swimwear and accessories group, where prices rose 1.7 percent. Prices otherwise fell 3.1 percent for dresses, 1.1 percent in outerwear and 0.8 percent for suits and separates.

Perhaps due to back-to-school promotions, girls’ apparel prices fell 0.7 percent and boys’ were down 2.6 percent. Prices for infants’ and toddlers’ clothes were up 0.6 percent.

Footwear prices stepped up 0.7 percent in August, with gains of 1.2 percent in women’s, 1.1 percent in men’s, and 0.7 percent in boys’ and girls’.

Home goods prices lifted in the month, as well. The key categories of furniture and bedding, and window and floor coverings and other linens both rose a seasonally adjusted 2.3 percent from July.

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Increases in raw material and shipping costs undoubtedly contributed to the uptick, in addition to continued solid consumer demand.

U.S. spot cotton prices averaged 91.34 cents per pound for the week ended Sept. 9. The weekly average was up from 91.16 cents the prior week and from 58.37 cents a year earlier, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The BLS Producer Price Index for July showed price for synthetic fibers were down 0.6 percent, while processed yarns and threads were up 1.4 percent and finished fabrics rose 0.7 percent compared to June.

The much-ballyhooed ocean freight rates also continued to rise, with Drewry’s composite World Container index increasing 1 percent to $10,083.84 per 40-foot container for the week ended Sept. 9. The average composite index is now 309 percent higher than a year ago.

The overall CPI increased 0.3 percent in August on a seasonally adjusted basis after rising 0.5 percent in July. Over the last 12 months, the CPI increased an unadjusted 5.3 percent, a smaller increase than the 5.4 percent rise for the period ending through July.

The indexes for gasoline, household furnishings and operations, food, and shelter all rose in August and contributed to the monthly increase, BLS noted. The energy index, important for business operations and logistics, increased 2 percent, mainly due to a 2.8 percent rise in the gasoline index.

The core index, minus food and energy, rose 0.1 percent in August, its smallest increase since February 2021. The core index increased 4 percent over the past 12 months, also a smaller increase than the period ending in July.