Retail Sales Fall More than Expected in February

U.S. retail sales fell a larger-than-expected 1.3 percent in February as auto sales plunged and consumers took a breather after spending big in January, a government report showed on Tuesday.

The drop in sales in February was even larger than the 0.8 percent decline forecast by Wall Street and marked the first decline in retail demand since August, the report showed.

However, the Commerce Department revised up January's sales to show a whopping 2.9 percent rise, from the originally reported 2.3 percent gain. Analysts said unusually warm weather in January had boosted shopping.

Sales outside the auto sector were down 0.4 percent in February, in line with analyst expectations, in the largest decline since April 2004.

Sales of motor vehicles and parts dropped 4.6 percent last month, the biggest drop since August 2005, after a 4.2 percent surge in January, the report showed.

Demand was also down at furniture stores, where sales fell 4 percent, and at clothing stores, where sales declined 3.3 percent. Sales at electronics and appliance stores were 2 percent lower, while gasoline sales fell 1.6 percent as gas prices eased.

Retail sales excluding gasoline were down 1.3 percent in February after being up 2.8 percent in January.

Restaurant and bar sales dropped 1.9 percent in the largest drop since September 2001, while sales and food and beverage stores were up 1.1 percent, the Commerce Department said.