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Retail Apparel Prices Flat in May, but Outlook Remains Unclear

After two months of declines, retail apparel prices were flat in May compared to April, as increases in women’s clothing were balanced by declines in men’s wear, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported Wednesday in the Consumer Price Index (CPI).

Men’s apparel prices fell 0.7 percent in the month, with declines of 1.5 percent in pants and shorts; 1.4 percent in the suits, sport coats and outerwear group; and 0.3 percent in shirts and sweaters. The only men’s wear category that saw prices rise was the underwear, nightwear, swimwear and accessories group, with a 0.7 percent gain.

In women’s wear, prices were up 0.2 percent last month, pushed up by a 2.5 percent increase in dresses. All other women’s sectors saw prices fall, with decreases of 1.8 percent in the underwear, nightwear, swimwear and accessories group; and 0.7 percent in both outerwear and suits and separates.

Boy’s apparel prices were up 0.1 percent for the month, girl’s clothing prices rose 0.2 percent and infants’ and toddlers’ apparel prices increased 0.5 percent.

Meanwhile, the outlook for apparel prices in the pipeline is unclear. On the one hand, the potential for tariffs on apparel imports from China lurks and could send prices up.

In a fresh analysis released Wednesday, Cotton Incorporated said, “A central source of uncertainty for the cotton market remains the trade situation between the U.S. and China…If tariff increases are extended to cover all U.S. consumer goods imported from China, U.S. retail prices could increase and demand across product categories could fall.”

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On the other hand, fiber prices have generally been soft. U.S. spot cotton prices averaged 63.55 cents per pound for the week ended June 6, down from 63.56 per pound a week earlier and from 87.39 cents per pound in the year-ago period, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The BLS Producer Price Index for domestic synthetic fibers was also flat in May, but was up 2.5 percent from a year earlier.

The price of wool imported to the U.S. fell to $5.88 for the week ended June 7 from $6.24 a month earlier. In Australia, the Eastern Market Indicator was down 23 cents to $18.64 Australian.

Footwear prices were up 0.1 percent in May. Men’s footwear prices increased 1.1 percent, women’s prices fell 0.2 percent, and boys’ and girls’ dropped 2.5 percent.

In the overall economy, the CPI increased 0.1 percent in May on a seasonally adjusted basis after rising 0.3 percent in April, BLS reported. Over the last 12 months, CPI was up 1.8 percent before seasonal adjustment.

The core CPI, excluding the volatile food and energy sectors, increased 0.1 percent for the fourth consecutive month.

The energy index, an important gauge for businesses, fell 0.6 percent in May, with the gasoline index falling 0.5 percent following a 5.7 percent increase in April, and the indexes for electricity and natural gas also declining. The electricity index also fell, decreasing 0.8 percent in May.