WASHINGTON -- Consumers cut back on their shopping in March, causing retail sales to contract for the second time in three months, the Commerce Department said Friday.
Retail sales fell 0.4% in March compared to the previous month, the biggest drop since June. Economists had expected sales to be flat.
The falloff was led by declines in spending at gas stations, department stores and at electronics and appliance retailers. Auto sales, which have been boosting retail figures, also declined in March.
An early Easter holiday and bad weather in much of the country might have contributed to the fall-off, analysts said.
But the figures also could reflect the impact of higher taxes, particularly the end of the payroll tax break that began on Jan. 1, and concerns about the automatic federal budget cuts known as sequestration.