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US Retail Apparel Prices Fell 2.3% in May

U.S. retail apparel prices fell for the third consecutive month in May as the coronavirus crisis forced store closures, slashed consumer spending on nonessential goods and depressed raw material prices.

For the month, retail apparel prices were down a seasonally adjusted 2.3 percent after declining 4.7 percent in April and 2 percent in March, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Consumer Price Index (CPI) released Wednesday.

The falloff in apparel prices was seen across the board, led by a 3 percent decline in women’s wear. Within the category, prices for dresses fell 9.7 percent, prices for the underwear, nightwear, swimwear and accessories group declined 5.3 percent, outerwear costs 1.8 percent less and suits and separates prices dropped 1.7 percent.

Men’s apparel prices were down 2.5 percent for the month, with declines in every sector. Prices fell 4.1 percent for suits, sport coats and outerwear, 2.2 percent for pants and shorts, 1.9 percent for shirts and sweaters and 1 percent for underwear, nightwear, swimwear and accessories.

Boys’ apparel prices declined 2.2 percent in May, while prices for girls’ clothes were down 2.5 percent and infants’ and toddlers’ clothes costs 0.5 percent less.

Footwear prices were also depressed for the month, falling 1.5 percent overall at retail. Women’s footwear prices were down 2.1 percent, men’s prices fell 2 percent and boys’ and girls’ footwear dipped 1.8 percent.

The retail prices declines came as raw material prices have suffered from low demand and high supply. U.S. spot cotton prices averaged 55.22 cents per pound for the week ended June 4, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The weekly average was up from 53.51 cents per pound the prior week, but down from 63.55 cents in the year-ago period, USDA reported.

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The overall CPI was down 0.1 percent in May on a seasonally adjusted basis after falling 0.8 percent in April, BLS reported Wednesday. Over the past 12 months, the CPI was up an unadjusted 0.1 percent.

The so-called core index, minus food and energy, also fell 0.1 percent in May, marking the first time this index has ever declined in three consecutive months. Along with motor vehicle insurance and apparel, the indexes for airline fares and used cars and trucks declined in May, BLS noted, while the indexes for shelter, recreation, medical care, household furnishings and operations, and new vehicles all increased.

The energy index, important for cost of operations, declined 1.8 percent in May following a 10.1 percent decline in April. The gasoline index fell 3.5 percent in May after falling 20.6 percent in April. The electricity index also declined in May, falling 0.8 percent, its largest one-month decline since May 2015. The index for natural gas rose 0.8 percent in May.