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Men’s Wear Prices Fall in February as Sourcing Shifts Drive Disruption

Retail apparel prices rose 0.4 percent in February following a 0.7 percent increase the prior month, led by hikes in women’s and girl’s clothing that were balanced by declines in boys’ and men’s wear, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported Wednesday in its Consumer Price Index (CPI).

The price hikes had been predicted by many major brands that said they were needed in lieu of increased tariffs on imports from China and the cost of switching production out of the country during the U.S.-China trade war.

Prices have been helped, however, by stable raw material costs, notably in cotton. U.S. cotton spot prices averaged 57.53 cents per pound for the week ended March 5, down from 60.84 a pound in the prior week and 68.17 cents a year earlier.

Men’s prices

The men’s category presented dichotomous results for the month. With an overall decrease in seasonally adjusted prices of 0.7 percent month to month and an unadjusted 0.1 percent decline from February 2019, there were key differences among sectors.

The men’s underwear, nightwear, swimwear and accessories group saw prices rise 3.4 percent in February compared to January, and the suits, sport coats and outerwear sector prices were up 1 percent. On the other hand, men’s pants and shorts prices declined 2.5 percent, while shirts and sweaters fell 1.9 percent.

Men’s wear sourcing

Trade policy and resultant sourcing strategies developed by companies play a role in the cost of manufacturing in different product types. In one of the largest categories, men’s and boys’ jeans, shifts in sourcing could be driving prices up in the long term, with prices in pants and shorts rising an unadjusted 3.7 percent in February compared a year earlier.

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Leading suppliers Mexico and Bangladesh essentially saw their exports to the U.S. remain flat in 2019 to values of $711.49 million and $318.14 million, respectively, while third-place China’s shipments plummeted 40.63 percent to $143.66 million, according to the Commerce Department’s Office of Textiles & Apparel (OTEXA).

Picking up their slack was Egypt, with imports into the U.S. increasing 27.64 percent to $123.81 million, and Nicaragua, whose shipments rose 31.06 percent to $121.59 million in the year. All top five countries except China ship their goods into the U.S. under duty-free benefits, keeping prices down, but each country has varied cost structures.

Non-denim men’s and boy’s pants and shorts also saw production fluctuations in the year. Top supplier Vietnam increased its shipments 11.73 percent to $684.2 million, while the overall flight from China during the tariff-fueled trade war with the U.S. led to its shipments falling 14.3 percent to $420.74 million.

Bangladesh and Jordan followed with increases of 2.25 percent to $246.48 million and 1.66 percent to $198.74 million, respectively. Fifth-place Indonesia had a strong year, with shipments up 16.13 percent to $169 million.

In men’s and boy’s dress shirts, No. 2 Vietnam scored a 16.77 percent gain in 2019 for an import value of $176.03 million, but still trailed top maker Bangladesh, which posted a 1.34 percent increase to $337.62 million. Again, China’s shipments nosedived, falling 38.35 percent to $156,07 million.

Vietnam led the cotton knit shirt category, with imports jumping 20.38 percent to $912.26 million, while China’s shipments fell 11.97 percent to $830.42 million. The next five suppliers–Honduras, India, Nicaragua, Pakistan and Bangladesh-all posted gains in the year.

China’s shipments of synthetic fiber coats to the U.S. managed to stay flat for the year at $982.69 million, while Vietnam’s shipments advanced 23.75 percent to $665.63 million.

Overall CPI

The CPI report showed women’s apparel prices up 1.2 percent in the month, as girls’ prices rose 2.6 percent, boys’ dipped 0.1 percent and infants’ and toddlers’ declined 0.9 percent.

Retail footwear prices inched up 0.1 percent in February, led by a 2.9 percent hike in boys’ and girls’, and a 0.5 percent gain in men’s. Women’s footwear prices fell 0.7 percent in the month.

The overall CPI rose 0.1 percent in February on a seasonally adjusted basis, the same increase as in January. Over the past 12 months, the CPI increased 2.3 percent before seasonal adjustment.

Increases in the indexes for shelter and for food were the main causes of the increase, more than offsetting a decline in the energy index.

The core index, minus food and energy, rose 0.2 percent in February, the same increase as in January. Along with the index for shelter, the indexes for apparel, personal care, used cars and trucks, education, and medical care were among those that increased in February. The indexes for recreation and airline fares declined over the month.