February retail sales fall 0.1 pct; few signs of tax bump

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February retail sales fall 0.1 pct; few signs of tax bump
In this Sunday, Jan. 7, 2018, photograph, sun glints off the headlight housing of an unsold 2018 Maserati Levante in a long line of the high-end sports utility vehicles sitting on a dealer's lot in Highlands Ranch, Colo. On Wednesday, March 14, 2018, the Commerce Department releases U.S. retail sales data for February. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. consumers spent less at auto dealers, gas stations and department stores in February, causing overall retail sales to slip 0.1 percent.

The Commerce Department said Wednesday that sales have declined for the past three months, but they’re still 4 percent higher from a year ago. Shoppers have opened 2018 with a cold spell after robust spending gains in the months leading up to the holidays.

So far, the promise of higher take-home pay from President Donald Trump’s tax cuts appears to have had little influence on spending for big ticket items such as autos.

Consumers have also continued migrating to online outlets such as Amazon and away from traditional department stores, dampening overall sales as the competition to charge the lowest price has increased. Retail sales are increasingly influenced by the aging of the baby boomer generation, who tend to spend less after retirement.

Auto sales fell 0.9 percent last month, while purchases at gas stations tumbled 1.2 percent. Sales at department stores declined 0.9 percent.

But spending at online and catalog retailers climbed, as did spending at building materials stores, restaurants and clothiers to offset much of the decline elsewhere.

The sales decline seems to contradict some of the optimism among retailers, which added a healthy 50,300 jobs in February, according to the Labor Department’s jobs report.