Retail sales fell 0.2 percent in October, the second straight decline as falling auto sales offset an increase in clothing purchases spurred by cooler temperatures.
The Commerce Department said Friday that sales totaled a seasonally adjusted $213.7 billion, down from $214.1 billion in September. But excluding the drop in autos, sales were up 0.4 percent.Many analysts had expected a 0.3 percent overall gain. Sales in September were revised from an initially reported 0.3 percent advance to a 0.1 percent dip. Prior to September, sales had risen for three months.
Retail sales account for about one-third of the nation's economic activity, and the recent sluggishness has caused some concern over how robust the holiday shopping season will be. The Christmas season often accounts for half of a retailer's earnings.
Still, there have been few signs of accelerating inflation, permitting the Federal Reserve to keep interest rates unchanged at a meeting on Wednesday rather than raise them to slow the economy further.
Sales of durable goods - items such as furnaces and furniture expected to last more than three years - slumped 0.9 percent after falling 0.8 percent a month earlier.
Auto dealers saw a 2 percent drop following September's 1.4 percent decline.