Who's raising prices in this economy? What a world when gasoline and clothing prices jump by the most in nearly two decades as hundreds of thousands of workers lose their jobs amid an apparently deepening recession. I long ago realized that gasoline prices fluctuate to the beat of their own (oil) drum. The oil cartels have us over the barrel, if you'll forgive me for applying a bad pun to a worse cliché. ConocoPhillips ( COP), Exxon Mobil ( XOM), BP ( BP) and other producers of gasoline know how to play the supply and demand game to their own advantage -- which is good for investors and puzzling to consumers. So I'm not going to try to decipher the 8.3% jump in the gasoline index for February. But clothing prices? The apparel index rose 1.3%, with the biggest increase for menswear and clothing for boys. Where's that coming from? Last I checked, consumers were buying less and sales were declining at Gap ( GPS), Macy's ( M) and Target ( TGT).Not to mention the losses reported by Liz Claiborne ( LIZ)and other clothing makers.
Nothing about February's 0.4% increase in consumer prices makes much sense. Now no one wants deflation -- our economy is deflated enough -- but a little price stability might be good. I don't want to see retailers and clothing makers get hammered. But I know the consumer is the heart of the economy, and consumers are hurting right now. So a little price moderation might be good for everyone. Now is not the time to be gouging shoppers - we need them to keep shopping after all.