US retail sales fall an unexpected 1.1 percent

Michael Conroy/AP
A shopper makes her way down an aisle at a Wal-Mart store in Indianapolis April 9. Retail sales fell in March for the first time in three months.

Consumers didn't get the memo.

While nearly everyone else was speculating that the worst of the economic downturn was over, Americans tightened their purse strings even more. Retail sales last month fell 1.1 percent from February, posting the lowest seasonally adjusted reading since October 2005, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday. Analysts had expected a rise of 0.3 percent.

The biggest detractor was car and car parts, which fell an unexpected 2.3 percent from the previous month. Analysts had expected an increase. Another big loser for the month was electronics and appliance stores, which saw a sharper 5.9 percent drop in sales but accounted for a much smaller share of the total sales picture.

The only sector to gain sales were food and beverage stores (up 0.5 percent) and health and personal-care stores (0.4 percent) – small increases that are not unusual in the midst of a recession.

The decline in retail sales was echoed by a 1.2 percent fall in producer prices in March after two straight months of increases. But excluding the food and energy sectors, the prices of finished goods were unchanged, following a 0.2 percent rise in February and a 0.4 percent rise in January, the Labor Department reported Tuesday.

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