Retail sales decline in March

USA retail sales fell for a second straight month in March and consumer prices dropped for the first time in just over a year, underscoring the magnitude of the loss of economic growth momentum in the first quarter.But with the labor market near full employment, Friday's weak reports failed to change views that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates again in June.

The Commerce Department said retail sales dipped by 0.2% in March after a revised 0.3% decline in February.

Sales declined in six of 13 major retail categories in March.

In all, the Bureau estimated advanced monthly sales of $470.8 billion for March, a decrease of about $1 billion from February's sales of $471.8 billion. Chris Christopher, who also lowered his first-quarter GDP forecast from 1.3% to 1%, said the sluggish consumer spending in the first three months of this year is likely temporary.

Closely watched core retail sales, which exclude autos, gasoline, building materials and food service, climbed by 0.5 percent in March after slipping by 0.2 percent in February.

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For the first time in almost two years, retail sales declined two months in a row, highlighting once again the current challenges facing a retail industry that has suffered a number of bankruptcies and store closures so far in 2017.

It's the weakest two-month stretch of sales since the beginning of 2015, another sign that the government's official scorecard for first-quarter growth will fall short of 2%. Internet purveyors reported another healthy increase in sales, too.

Sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores owned the next worst performance in March, down 3.8% from a year ago, followed by electronics and appliance stores, down 0.7%.

That has forced retailers like J.C. Penney Co Inc JCP.N, Abercrombie & Fitch ANF.N and Macy's Inc M.N to scale back on brick-and-mortar operations. Year-over-year core sales increased 5.0%.

The CPI nudging up 0.1 percent in February. The Fed has a 2 percent inflation target and tracks an inflation measure which is now at 1.8 percent. February's retail sales were revised down to show a 0.3 percent decrease instead of the previously reported 0.1 percent gain. The cost of food consumed at home increased 0.5 percent, the biggest gain since May 2014.

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