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Retail Apparel Prices Flat in May but Gas Prices Lift Overall CPI

Retail apparel prices were unchanged in April compared to May, as an increase in women’s and girls’ clothing balanced out declines in men’s and boy’s apparel, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported Tuesday.

The overall Consumer Price Index (CPI) increased 0.2% in May on a seasonally adjusted basis after rising by the same percentage in April, BLS reported. Over the last 12 months, the CPI rose 2.8% percent before seasonal adjustment.

BLS noted that the indexes for gasoline and shelter were the largest factors in the increase last month, as they were in April. The core index, excluding the volatile food and energy sectors, also increased 0.2% in May. The core index was up 2.2% for the 12 months through to May.

Ken Matheny, executive director of U.S. economics at Macroeconomic Advisers by IHS Markit, said the 12-month change in the core CPI was the highest since February 2017.

“Contributing to the rise in the core CPI in May were increases in the indices for rents, new vehicles and medical care commodities,” Matheny said. “The 1.3% increase in the medical care commodities CPI is the largest one-month increase on record and driven largely by a 1.4% increase in prescription drug prices. The CPI for internet services jumped 1.5% in May, the largest increase on record. Still, relative to last May, internet prices are down 2.6%.”

In apparel, women’s wear prices were up 1.1% last month, men’s wear prices fell 1.7%, girls’ clothing prices were down 1.2% and prices for boys’ apparel were up 1.4%. Overall apparel prices had increased 0.3% in April compared to March and were up 1.4% compared to May 2017.

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Raw material prices have been on an upward trend from a year ago, but have stabilized somewhat, which are not necessarily reflected in the cost of goods at retail that are further down the supply chain and timeline. U.S. spot cotton prices, for example, averaged 87.39 cents per pound for the week ended June 7, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The weekly average was up from 87.17 per pound a week earlier and 73.54 cents per pound reported a year earlier. The Producer Price Index for synthetic fiber in April rose 5.4% from March to 128.4 and was up from 122.9 in April 2017.

In women’s, prices for outerwear decreased 2.5% in the month, while the price for dresses fell 0.5%. A 0.6% increase was seen in the broad category of underwear, nightwear, sportswear and accessories, while suits and separates prices rose 1.6% last month.

In men’s, prices for suits, sport coats and outerwear fell 4.3% in May, as shirts and sweaters prices declined 3 percent and furnishings were down 0.4%. The pants and shorts category was flat from a month earlier.

Footwear prices fell 0.7% in May compared to April and were off by the same percentage from a year earlier. Prices for women’s footwear declined 0.9%, men’s footwear prices were down 0.6% and the cost of girls’ and boys’ footwear dropped 2.3% last month.

The energy index, which is important for apparel and textile manufacturers and brand and retails operations because the costs involve everything from running facilities to transportation, rose 0.9% in May after increasing 1.4% in April. The gasoline index was up 1.7% following a 3 percent increase in April, while the electricity index rose 0.1% last month and the index for natural gas fell 0.6%. The energy index increased 11.7 percent compared to a year earlier, with three of four major component indexes rising, BLS reported.

Matheny said based on the report, IHS Markit’s estimate of the year-to-year change in the core personal consumption expenditures price index, an indicator of retail sale, in May is 1.9%, up one-tenth from April.