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Retail Apparel Prices Follow April’s Easing Inflation

Retail apparel prices fell a seasonally adjusted 0.8 percent in April, ending a string of six consecutive increases, but were still up an unadjusted 5.4 percent from a year earlier, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) revealed Wednesday in its Consumer Price Index (CPI).

Women’s apparel prices dipped 1 percent, while men’s tags inched up 0.3 percent. Prices for boys’ clothing rose 0.2 percent, while girls fell 0.5 percent and the cost of infants’ and toddlers’ apparel declined 0.7 percent.

In men’s wear, prices increased 6.6 percent in suits, sport coats and outerwear, while the cost declined 1.9 percent for pants and shorts, 1.3 percent in the underwear, nightwear, swimwear and accessories group, and 0.9 percent for shirts and sweaters.

In women’s wear, prices were down 2.3 percent for suits and separates and 0.9 percent for the underwear, nightwear, swimwear and accessories group, while costs rose 0.7 percent for dresses and 0.4 percent for outerwear.

Retail footwear prices fell 1.3 percent in April, as men’s were down 1.4 percent and boys’ and girls’ clothing prices declined 1.4 percent, while women’s footwear prices inched up 0.1 percent.

The CPI for household furnishings and supplies rose 0.5 percent in the month and was up 10.6 percent from April 2021. Within the category, prices for furniture and bedding increased 1.5 percent in April and 15 percent from a year earlier.

While soft goods prices increases eased off somewhat in April, they could pop back up based on raw material price trends.

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U.S. spot cotton prices averaged $1.45 cents per pound for the week ended May 5, the highest weekly average since the week ending June 16, 2011, when the average was 150.43 cents, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The weekly average was up from $1.34 last week and from 84.03 cents a year earlier.

Online inflation and e-commerce data from the Adobe Digital Price Index (DPI), powered by Adobe Analytics, showed online prices increased 2.9 percent year-over-year, down from the record year-over-year 3.6 percent rise in March, and decreased 0.5 percent for the month.

Adobe said while this marks the 23rd consecutive month of year-over-year online inflation, April showed early signs of online price increases beginning to slow. Over half of the categories tracked by the Adobe DPI saw price decreases in April compared to March.

Prices for online apparel fell 1.7 percent in April, but increased 12.3 percent for the 12-month period. Adobe noted that although this is the highest year-over-year increase of any category, it is down from recent highs of 16.3 percent in March and 16.7 percent in February.

The overall CPI increased 0.3 percent in April on a seasonally adjusted basis after rising 1.2 percent in March, BLS reported. Over the last 12 months, the CPI was up an unadjusted 8.3 percent.

The core index, minus food and energy, rose 0.6 percent in April following a 0.3 percent gain in March. Indexes for shelter, airline fares, new vehicles, medical care, recreation, and household furnishings and operations all contributed to the increased in April, outweighing declined in apparel, communication, and used cars and trucks.

“While it is heartening to see that annual inflation moderated in April, the fact remains that inflation is unacceptably high,” President Biden said. “Inflation is a challenge for families across the country and bringing it down is my top economic priority. This starts with the Federal Reserve, which plays a primary role in fighting inflation in our country…While I will never interfere with the Fed’s independence, I believe we have built a strong economy and a strong labor market, and I agree with what Chairman Powell said last week that the number one threat to that strength is inflation. I am confident the Fed will do its job with that in mind.”

Biden said beyond the Fed, his inflation plan is focused on lowering the costs that families face and lowering the federal deficit, noting that the Congressional Budget Office reported that the federal budget deficit in the first seven months of this fiscal year fell $1.5 trillion. The CBO also confirmed that the budget deficit so far this year is lower than it was during the same period in 2019, before the pandemic began.

The president called on Congress to pass the bipartisan innovation bill to bolster U.S. supply chains and make more in America, along with legislation that cuts costs and cuts the deficit, reducing families’ prescription drug and utility bills and restoring fairness to the tax code.

Tim Drayson, chief U.S. economist for global asset manager Legal & General Investment Management, agreed that the Fed’s best chance to meet its inflation target without a recession is if goods prices fall rapidly.

“It should help that used car prices are easing back, but the overall outlook is very uncertain,” Drayson said. “Other rises in goods price should begin to slow as inventories recover, yet with elevated commodity prices and additional supply chain disruptions, prices are unlikely to actually decline.”

The CPI rose 8.3 percent for the year through April, a smaller increase than the 8.5 percent figure for the period ending in March. The energy index was up 30.3 percent over the last year and the food index increased 9.4 percent, the largest 12-month increase since the period ending April 1981.

The energy index, important for business operations and logistics, declined 2.7 percent in April after rising 11 percent in March. The gasoline index fell 6.1 percent after increasing 18.3 percent the prior month. The other major energy component indexes increased in April–natural gas rose 3.1 percent and electricity increased 0.7 percent.