Spending at U.S. retailers declined in September, raising concerns about the strength of American consumers amid signs of a global slowdown.
Retail and food sales fell 0.3% from August to a seasonally adjusted $442.7 billion, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. It was the first decline in sales since January, when an unusually cold winter slowed the economy.
Sales fell in most categories of consumer spending last month. Economists expected sales at gasoline stations and auto dealerships to ease in September, but spending also declined at clothing stores, home-improvement suppliers and nonstore retailers, a category that includes online sales.
Excluding automotive purchases, sales fell 0.2% from the prior month. When excluding both auto and gasoline purchases, retail sales fell 0.1%. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had forecast overall retail sales would fall 0.1% last month. They had predicted a 0.3% gain excluding autos.
Among the few bright spots in Wednesday’s report was a 3.4% gain at electronics and appliance stores. The bump—the best in more than a year—likely reflects sales of Apple’s iPhone 6.
“Consumer spending activity ended the quarter on a very weak footing,” said TD Securities economist Millan Mulraine “And with consumer confidence appearing to be deteriorating in recent weeks, this weakening momentum appears to be have been carried into this quarter.”