BRUSSELS Motorists in the euro zone economized on fuel spending in September and caused retail trade to contract by the biggest margin in five months in a further drag on the weak economy.
High world oil prices fed into the price of diesel and gasoline at the pump and pushed down retail sales 0.2 percent in September from August, the EU's statistics office Eurostat said on Wednesday.
That was slightly worse than expected by economists in a Reuters poll, who forecast volumes would fall 0.1 percent in September. However, the data is volatile and August's reading was revised up by Eurostat to 0.2 percent growth, from an earlier 0.1 percent contraction.
The annual reading was moderately better than the consensus forecast, with sales down 0.8 percent in September compared with expectations of a 1 percent drop.
Despite tepid global demand for oil as economies worldwide feel the impact of the euro zone debt crisis, Brent crude rose to near $120 a barrel in August and remained high for much of September and October. Brent traded around $110 a barrel on Wednesday.
Households in the euro zone have been struggling since the global financial crisis of 2008/2009, constrained by disposable incomes that grew only during the brief recovery of 2010. That weakness has fed back into the downturn, and the bloc's overall output is expected to shrink at least 0.3 percent this year.
The difficulties in the economy were evident in the sales of automotive fuel, which fell 2 percent in September in the euro zone. In contrast in June, when oil was at $90 a barrel, fuel sales rose 2 percent, according to Eurostat data.
Sales of clothing, electricals and other goods such as medical products fell 0.6 percent in the month, underscoring the downturn.