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Retail Apparel Prices on Three-Month Hot Streak

Retail apparel prices ticked up a seasonally adjusted 0.6 percent in August–the third consecutive monthly increase–but were down an unadjusted 5.9 percent compared to a year earlier, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported Friday in its Consumer Price Index (CPI).

Leading the price hike was men’s apparel, which was up 2 percent last month, with seasonal and lifestyle demands seeming to have an impact on category price swings. With brands and retailers reporting low demand for suits and sport coats–G-III CEO Morris Goldfarb said this week “Nobody is wearing nested suits to work or to go out to dinner or to sit around the house”–and outerwear out of season, prices in that category fell 3.2 percent.

The rest of the men’s wear sector that had casual appeal or seasonality in its favor saw price hikes–pants and shorts rose 5.1 percent; shirts and sweaters increased 2.1 percent, and the underwear, nightwear, swimwear and accessories group gained 3.6 percent.

The same pattern followed in women’s wear, which posted a 0.5 percent increase in August. Suits and separates prices fell 0.1 percent and outerwear was down 1.6 percent, while dresses rose 4.9 percent and the underwear, nightwear, swimwear and accessories group inched up 0.9 percent.

Prices for girls’ clothing increased 2 percent, while boy’s apparel cost 1.2 percent less. Infants’ and toddlers’ apparel prices crawled up 0.3 percent.

In footwear, retail prices were up 0.3 percent last month, with women’s prices rising 2 percent and men’s up 0.6 percent, while boys’ and girls’ slipped 2.2 percent.

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The overall CPI increased 0.4 percent in August, after rising 0.6 percent in July, BLS said. Over the last 12 months, the CPI was up 1.3 percent, rising since the period ending May 31, when the 12-month increase was 0.1 percent.

The monthly increase was broad-based, BLS said, with a sharp rise in the used cars and trucks index the largest factor. But the indexes for gasoline, shelter, recreation, and household furnishings and operations also contributed.

The food index rose 0.1 percent in August after falling in July–an increase in the food away from home index more than offset a slight decline in the food at home index.

The core index, excluding food and energy, also rose 0.4 percent in August after increasing 0.6 percent in July. The core index was up 1.7 percent over the last 12 months.

The energy index, an important factor for business operations and logistics, rose 0.9 percent in August, its third consecutive increase. The gasoline index continued to rise, increasing 2 percent in August after rising 5.6 percent in July, according to BLS. The index for electricity decreased 0.2 percent in August after rising in July, while the index for natural gas also declined, falling 0.2 percent last month after a 1 percent decrease in July.

The energy index was down 9 percent over the past 12 months. The gasoline index decreased 16.8 percent, while the fuel oil index fell 23.6 percent. The index for natural gas declined 0.5 percent and the index for electricity dipped 0.1 percent.