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U.S. retail sales, consumer prices dropped in March

Staff Writer |
U.S. retail sales fell for a second straight month in March and consumer prices dropped for the first time in 13 months.

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The Commerce Department said on Friday retail sales dropped 0.2 percent last month after a 0.3 percent decrease in February, which was the first and biggest decline in nearly a year.

Compared to March last year retail sales increased 5.2 percent.

These so-called core retail sales correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of gross domestic product.

Retail sales last month were dragged down by receipts at auto dealerships, which fell 1.2 percent, decreasing for a third straight month. Sales at service stations dropped 1.0 percent, reflecting lower gasoline prices.

Receipts at building material stores fell 1.5 percent, likely as bad weather halted work at construction sites. There were, however, areas of strength in March's retail sales report.

Sales at electronics and appliances stores surged 2.6 percent, the largest increase since June 2015. Receipts at clothing stores climbed 1.0 percent, the biggest advance since February 2016.

Retailers have been hurt by declining mall traffic and increased competition from online retailers, led by Amazon.com.

In a separate report, the Labor Department said its Consumer Price Index dropped 0.3 percent in March, the first decline since February 2016, as declining costs for gasoline and mobile phone services offset rising rents and food prices.

The CPI nudging up 0.1 percent in February. In the 12 months through March, the CPI rose 2.4 percent, slowing from February's 2.7 percent increase.

The so-called core CPI, which strips out food and energy costs, fell 0.1 percent, the first and largest decrease since January 2010, after rising 0.2 percent in February. As a result, the year-on-year increase slowed to 2.0 percent.

That was the smallest advance since November 2015 and followed a 2.2 percent increase in February. The Fed has a 2 percent inflation target and tracks an inflation measure which is currently at 1.8 percent.


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