WASHINGTON, March 17 (Reuters) - U.S. retail sales unexpectedly fell in February, with households cutting back on purchases of a range of products, and the coronavirus outbreak is expected to depress sales in the months ahead.
The Commerce Department said on Tuesday retail sales dropped 0.5% last month. Data for January was revised higher to show retail sales accelerating 0.6% instead of rising 0.3% as previously reported. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast retail sales climbing 0.2% in February.
The Federal Reserve on Sunday slashed interest rates to near zero and pledged hundreds of billions of dollars in asset purchases and backstopping foreign authorities with the offer of cheap dollar financing. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said the epidemic was having a “profound” impact on the economy.
Compared to February last year, retail sales increased 4.3%. Excluding automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services retail sales were unchanged last month after increasing by an upwardly revised 0.4% in January.
These so-called core retail sales correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of gross domestic product. They were previously reported to have been unchanged in January. (Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)