U.S. retail sales unexpectedly plunged during March in a broad-based decrease that threw a shadow over recent signs of improvement in the slumping economy. Retail sales decreased by 1.1% compared to the prior month, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. Economists expected an increase of 0.3%.
Sales in February were revised up, increasing 0.3% instead of dipping 0.1% as originally reported. January sales were revised up to an increase of 1.9% from aan increase of 1.8%.
The big decline in March sales was a disappointment. The increases in January and February sales had temporarily ended a freefall in consumer spending during the second half of 2008. People seemed to be braving a pitiless job market and pulling out their wallets again, which is good for the economy. Consumer spending makes up 70% of gross domestic product, the broad measure of economic activity.