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Retail Apparel Prices Dipped in September—But Why?

Ending a three-month streak of increases, retail apparel prices fell 0.4 percent in September, led by a drop in women’s and girls’ clothing, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported Thursday in the Consumer Price Index (CPI).

Women’s apparel prices declined 1.6 percent in the month, with decreases of 4.2 percent in outerwear, 2.6 percent in suits and separates, and 0.9 percent in dresses outweighing a 1.1 percent increase in the underwear, nightwear, swimwear and accessories group. Girls’ clothing prices fell 2.2 percent in September from the previous month.

Men’s apparel prices rose 1 percent last month, as declines of 1.8 percent in suits, sport coats and outerwear were balanced by increases of 2.5 percent in pants and shorts, 2 percent in the underwear, nightwear, swimwear and accessories group, and 0.5 percent in shirts and sweaters.

Boys’ apparel prices were up 2.2 percent in the month, while the cost of infants’ and toddlers’ clothes dipped 1.2 percent.

In footwear, retail prices were down 0.1 percent last month. Women’s footwear fell 0.2 percent and boys’ and girls’ declined 1.9 percent, while men’s footwear cost 1.5 percent more.

The apparel price decline could be related to continued low levels in prices for raw materials like cotton and wool. Spot prices on U.S. cotton averaged 58.43 cents per pound for the week ended Oct., up from 57.94 cents per pound a week earlier, but down from 72.66 cents a year ago. For wool, the Australian Eastern Market Indicator was down 98 cents to $15.11 cents per kilogram for the week ended Oct 4.

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Also potentially contributing was promotional activity at retail softening merchants’ pricing power. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, apparel and accessories stores saw sales fall 0.9 percent in August month-over-month, while sales at department stores fell 4.8 percent.

The overall CPI was unchanged in September on a seasonally adjusted basis after rising 0.1 percent in August, BLS reported. Over the past 12 months, the index increased a non-adjusted 1.7 percent.

The core index, minus the volatile food and energy sectors, rose 0.1 percent in September after increasing 0.3 percent in each of the past 3 months. The core index rose 2.4 percent over the past 12 months.

The energy index, important for operating costs, declined 1.4 percent in September, its fourth decline in the past five months. The gasoline index fell 2.4 percent in September following a 3.5 percent decline in August. The index for natural gas declined 0.7 percent in September, its eighth decline in the past nine months. The electricity index was unchanged.