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Retail sales decline in March

Retail sales fell in March for the second month in a row and consumer prices also declined, the government reported Friday.

The Commerce Department said sales dropped 0.2 percent last month after a 0.3 percent decrease in February. Lower car sales were a significant factor in the results.

"The downturn in auto sales is going to be a headwind for retail in general," Jim Baird, chief investment officer at Plante Moran Financial Advisors, told Business Insider.

Reuters reported that sales at building material stores fell 1.5 percent, probably because bad weather halted work at construction sites, but the news service noted areas of strength in the March report.

Sales at electronics and appliances stores rose 2.6 percent, which Reuters said was the largest increase since June 2015. Receipts at clothing stores climbed 1 percent, the biggest advance since February 2016.

Separately, the Labor Department said its Consumer Price Index fell 0.3 percent in March, the first decline since February of last year. Declining costs for gasoline and mobile phone services offset rising rents and food prices.

Core CPI, which excludes food and energy prices, fell 0.1 percent from the prior month, the first decrease since January 2010.

Reuters said a 6.2 percent drop in gasoline prices was the biggest factor in the monthly decline; the cost of wireless telephone services declined by a record 7 percent. However, consumers paid more for food and rent.

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