Retail sales in the U.S. fell in February, and January’s numbers were also revised to show a decline. February’s retail sales declined by 0.1%, while January’s tumbled by 0.4%, according to the Commerce Department. With the exclusion of gasoline, sales were up 0.2% in February.
The decline in purchases, which includes auto dealers, furniture outlets and department stores, shows that Americans are saving the money they save at the gas pump as financial markets remain volatile.
News of the decline in consumer spending, the largest part of the economy, comes as the U.S. Federal Reserve meets to determine whether the economy is strong enough to impose another rate hike.
Economists were expecting a 0.2% decline in sales for the month of February. January’s initial reading showed a 0.2% increase in sales. The revision to January’s data showed a major downward adjustment in the sales of building materials, electronics, department store merchandise and personal care items.
Eight of the 13 retail categories saw declines in February, which indicates that the decline was broad-based. Sales at furniture outlets fell by 0.5%, while purchases at general merchandise stores were down 0.2%.
Core sales, which excludes sales at gas stations, auto dealers and building materials, remained unchanged in February from the revised 0.2% gain in January.
Gas station sales were down 4.4%, while auto dealers declined 0.2%. With the exclusion of gas and autos, sales were up 0.3% from a 0.1% decline the previous month.
The figures for auto sales were in line with recent data from the industry, which showed easing in February. Light trucks and cars sold at an annualized rate of 17.4 million last month.
With the exclusion of autos, retail sales were down 0.1% following a 0.4% fall in January.
Economists predict that household spending may accelerate during the first three months of the year. Household spending accounts for about 70% of the U.S. economy.