US retail sales fall for 3rd straight month in February as auto purchases drop sharply

WASHINGTON – U.S. retail sales fell in February, as auto purchases dropped by the most in more than a year and Americans spent less at restaurants and home improvement stores.

The Commerce Department says retail sales fell 0.6 per cent last month, after a 0.8 per cent decline in January. It was the third straight retreat. Gas station sales rose for the first time in 9 months. Excluding the volatile categories of autos, gas, building materials and restaurants, sales were flat.

Robust hiring in the past 12 months and lower gas prices have lifted consumer confidence. But those trends have yet to boost spending, a key driver of economic activity.

Freezing temperatures and snowstorms likely weighed on sales, as the bad weather kept Americans at home.