US retail sales slump 0.3 percent, ending 4 months of gains

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U.S. shoppers retreated in August, cutting back their spending at auto dealers, furnishers and building material stores to depress overall retail sales.

The Commerce Department says retail sales fell 0.3 percent in August, a possible sign of caution after steady gains in previous months. Over the first eight months of the year, retail sales are up 2.9 percent compared with 2015.

Sales also tumbled at gas stations, largely reflecting lower oil prices. Even online and catalog sales, a sector that usually posts strong gains, slipped.

Not all categories declined last month. Back-to-school shopping likely bolstered sales of clothing, while spending at restaurants and grocery stores improved.

Job growth has helped sales. The unemployment rate is a healthy 4.9 percent, and monthly job gains have been averaging averaged 232,000 since June.