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US retail sales unchanged in April on weak autos, furniture


[WASHINGTON] US retail sales were unchanged in April as households cut back on purchases of automobiles and other big-ticket items, suggesting the economy was struggling to make a strong rebound after barely growing in the first quarter.

The Commerce Department said on Wednesday retail sales for March were revised up to show a 1.1 per cent increase instead of the previously reported 0.9 per cent rise.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast retail sales rising 0.2 per cent last month.

Retail sales excluding automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services were also unchanged after an upwardly revised 0.5 per cent increase in March.

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The so-called core retail sales correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of gross domestic product. Economists had forecast core retail sales rising 0.5 per cent in April after a previously reported 0.4 per cent increase in March.

Retail sales have trended weaker despite households getting a massive windfall from lower gasoline prices. Consumers appear to have saved much of the money from the cheaper gasoline.

The weak report was the latest sign that while the economy was finding its footing at the start of the second quarter, it was not doing so at a pace that would convince the Federal Reserve to tighten monetary policy before September.

The economy was walloped by a mix of bad weather, disruptions at ports, a strong dollar and deep spending cuts by energy firms. The government reported last month that GDP expanded at a 0.2 per cent annual pace in the first three months of the year.

Trade and wholesale inventory data published last week, however, suggested the economy actually contracted. The government will release its GDP revision later this month.

Retail sales last month were curbed by a 0.4 per cent drop in receipts at auto dealerships. Sales at service stations fell 0.7 per cent. Sales at electronic and appliance stores slipped 0.4 per cent, while receipts at furniture stores declined 0.9 per cent.

There were some pockets of strength, with receipts at clothing stores up 0.2 per cent, likely as consumers took advantage of Easter holiday discounts.

Receipts at online stores increased 0.8 per cent, as did sales at sporting goods stores. Sales of building materials and garden equipment rose 0.3 per cent. Sales at restaurants and bars increased 0.7 per cent.