US retail sales stagnated in April in a weak start to the second quarter, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday.
Retail and food services sales totaled $436.8 billion in April, essentially unchanged from March. The March reading was revised from a 0.9 percent increase to 1.1 percent.
April's flat reading on retail sales, a key part of consumer spending that drives most of the US economy, was unexpected. The average consensus estimate was for a modest 0.2 percent increase.
Stripping out auto sales, retail sales edged up 0.1 percent in April.
Gains were led by stores selling sporting goods, hobby supplies, books and music, as well as health and personal care stores and online retailers.
Sales fell at furniture and home furnishing stores, electronics and appliance stores, and gasoline stations, with department stores putting in the worst performance, a 2.2 percent decline.
Year-over-year, retail sales rose 0.9 percent in April, the weakest growth since October 2009, several months after the economy exited the Great Recession.
"Expect to read much commentary to the effect that these numbers mean people aren't going to spend their windfall from the drop in gasoline prices, but it is far too early to make that judgment," said Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics in a research note.
"We remain confident that late spring and summer will see consumption surging, but after this soft start to Q2 we have to expect a sub-three percent gain for the current quarter."