U.S. retail sales unexpectedly fell 0.3% in March after remaining unchanged in February, according to the Commerce Department. Economists polled by Reuters expected an increase of 0.1%.

Households cut back on purchases of automobiles, further evidence that economic growth stumbled in the first quarter.

Retail sales excluding automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services ticked up 0.1 percent last month after an upwardly revised 0.1 percent gain in February.

These so-called core retail sales correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of gross domestic product. Economists had forecast core retail sales rising 0.3 percent last month.

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