Forget 'flat' CPI: Prices up at Wal-Mart, dollar stores

"Inflation is hardly anywhere to be found," writes Philadelphia economist Joel Naroff, citing the U.S. Department of Labor's go-back-to-sleep consumer price report for August.

Actually, at Wal-Mart, the nation's largest retail chain, prices are "going up, not down," writes Charles Grom, New York-based retail analyst at Birmingham, Ala.-based Stern Agee & Co. This "despite (the) rhetoric" of Wal-Mart's claims that the company "invests in price," he added.

Gorm checked prices at Dollar General, Family Dollar and Wal-Mart stores in New Jersey, and "surprisingly" found retail prices rose for a basket of 42 consumer items at each of the three chains during August: 1.8% at Wal-Mart; 1.1% at Dollar General, reversing an earlier-in-the-year decrease; and by a modest 0.1% at Family Dollar. The increases are across-the-board and not concentrated on some categories.

Also: Wal-Mart still has the cheapest groceries, by up to 10%; Family Dollar has cheaper housewares and pet stuff, by about 4%. But rising Wal-Mart prices, relative to others', mean the chain is not that much cheaper, overall, than the dollar stores (around 3% on average).  Cigarettes still cost about $7.40 a pack at the chains (a few cents cheaper, on average, at Family Dollar).