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Retail Apparel Prices Fall Back in February

Retail apparel prices declined a seasonally adjusted 0.7 percent in February after increasing 2.2 percent in January, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported Wednesday in its report on the Consumer Price Index (CPI).

Price decreases were seen in men’s wear, girls’ and boy’s apparel, and infants and toddlers clothing, with only women’s wear posting an increase, BLS reported.

Men’s prices fell 1.5 percent, with declines of 5.4 percent in shirts and sweaters, 1.4 percent in pants and shorts, and 0.4 percent in suits, sport coats and outerwear. Only the underwear, nightwear, swimwear and accessories category saw a price hike, up 2.2 percent.

Boys’, and infants’ and toddlers’ apparel prices were down 2 percent, while girls’ clothing prices declined 2.3 percent in the month compared to December.

Women’s apparel prices rose 0.9 percent month to month, with increases of 1.5 percent in the underwear, nightwear, swimwear and accessories group, and 0.4 percent in suits and separates, and outerwear. Bucking the trend was dresses, with prices declining 4.9 percent.

Retail footwear prices were a mixed bag. Overall prices dipped 0.2 percent, with boys’ and girls’ prices down 0.7 percent. But men’s prices were up 0.8 percent and women’s rose 0.5 percent.

The up-and-down nature of apparel prices is likely impacted by unsteady consumer demand caused by the pandemic and wobbly economy and unsteady raw materials prices across the supply chain.

Meanwhile, U.S. spot cotton prices averaged 84.50 cents per pound for the week ended March 4, down from 86.90 cents the prior week, but up from 57.53 cents a year earlier. Prices for synthetic fibers were up 0.7 percent in January, according to the Producer Price Index, but were down 1.7 percent from January 2020.

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The overall CPI increased 0.4 percent in February on a seasonally adjusted basis after rising 0.3 percent in January. Over the past 12 months, the index increased an unadjusted 1.7 percent, a larger bump than the 1.4 percent reported for the period ending in January.

The so-called core, minus food and energy, rose 0.1 percent in the month. The indexes for shelter, recreation, medical care and motor vehicle insurance all increased over the month, while the indexes for airline fares, used cars and trucks, and apparel all declined. The core index rose 1.3 percent over the past 12 months, a smaller increase than the 1.4 percent rise for the 12 months through January.

The energy index, important for business operations, continued to rise in February, increasing 3.9 percent, BLS reported. The index for gasoline was again the dominant factor in the increase, rising 6.4 percent over the month. The electricity index rose 0.7 percent in February and the natural gas index increased 1.6 percent over the month. The index for fuel oil also rose in February, increasing 9.9 percent.