Seasonal markdowns could be keeping the impact of tariff costs in retail apparel prices at bay.
Retail apparel prices inched up a seasonally adjusted 0.1 percent in November compared to the prior month, but were down an unadjusted 1.6 percent from a year earlier, according to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) released Wednesday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Brands and retail executives had been predicting some bump in prices from the Sept. 1 imposition of 15 percent tariffs on Chinese imports, although many said they had pulled holiday inventory in early to beat the increases. This was reflected by declines in September and October shipments.
Perhaps reflecting the nature of the type of merchandise sold, women’s and girls’ apparel prices were up, while men’s and boys’ declined. Soft fiber prices have also helped manufacturers keep price increases at bay. U.S. spot cotton prices averaged 60.04 cents per pound for the week ending Dec. 5. That was down from 60.83 the previous week and from 75.19 cents a year earlier.
Women’s retail apparel prices increased 1.2 percent last month compared to October. The gain was led by a 2.7 percent rise in suits and separates prices that outweighed declines of 1.3 percent in dresses, 0.1 percent in outerwear and 1.1 percent in the underwear, nightwear, swimwear and accessories group. Girl’s apparel prices rose 2 percent in the month.
Men’s apparel prices fell 1.9 percent in November, with decreases in all categories. Declines of 2.4 percent were seen in shirts and sweaters; 2 percent in the underwear, nightwear, swimwear and accessories group; 1.4 percent in pants and shorts, and 0.7 percent in suits, sport coats and outerwear. Boys’ apparel prices dropped 3.9 percent in the period.
The overall CPI rose 0.3 percent in November on a seasonally adjusted basis, after rising 0.4 percent in October, BLS reported Wednesday. Over the past 12 months, the index increased 2.1 percent before seasonal adjustment, a larger rise than the 1.8 percent increase for the period ending October.
Increases in the shelter and energy indexes were major factors in the monthly increase, BLS said, with gains in the indexes for medical care, recreation and food also contributing. The energy index, an important indicator for company operations costs, increased 0.8 percent in November after rising 2.7 percent in October. The gasoline index rose 1.1 percent in November following a 3.7 percent increase in October, while the index for natural gas rose 1.1 percent and the index for electricity increased 0.3 percent.
The core index, excluding food and energy, rose 0.2 percent in November, the same increase as in October. Along with the indexes for shelter, for medical care and recreation, the indexes for used cars and trucks and for apparel also rose in November.
The core CPI rose 2.3 percent over the past 12 months.