U.S. retail sales fell for a second straight month in March amid softening demand for automobiles, suggesting economic growth slowed abruptly in the first quarter.
The Commerce Department said on Friday retail sales dropped 0.2 percent last month. February's retail sales were revised down to show a 0.3 percent decrease instead of the previously reported 0.1 percent gain.
February's drop was the first and biggest in nearly a year.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast retail sales slipping 0.1 percent last month. Compared to March last year retail sales increased 5.2 percent.
Excluding automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services, retail sales rebounded 0.5 percent after a downwardly revised 0.2 percent decline in February.
These so-called core retail sales, which correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of gross domestic
Despite last month's increase in core retail sales, consumer spending likely braked sharply in the first quarter after growing at a brisk 3.5 percent annualized rate in the final three months of 2016. The apparent slowdown in consumption is partly blamed on the late disbursement of income tax refunds by the government as it sought to combat fraud.