The numbers: Sales at U.S. retailers fell in April for the second time in three months, a sign that Americans are exercising more caution over how much they spend with the economy facing more headwinds.
Retail sales dropped 0.2% last month, the government said Wednesday. Sales declined in most major segments including autos, home centers and Internet stores.
Economists polled by MarketWatch expected sales to climb 0.1%.
Stripping out autos and gas, sales also fell 0.2% to reflect broad weakness in the retail segment.
What happened: Receipts fell 1.1% at auto dealers after a decline in sales of new cars last month. Sales also slid a sharp 1.3% for electronic stores and 1.9% at home and garden centers.
Clothing stores, pharmacies and Internet retailers all posted a 0.2% dip in sales.
Sales jumped 1.8% at gasoline stations, reflecting higher prices at the pump. That’s not good news for consumers or the economy, however.
Big picture: The latest look at retail sales suggests Americans are showing more restraint in 2019 compared to a year earlier, when many households got a boost from the Trump tax cuts. Consumer spending in the first quarter was the weakest in a year.
Some letup was expected last month after a 1.7% surge in retails sales in March, and it’s possible an late Easter or delays in personal tax returns this year skewed the numbers. Yet the drop in sales is also a caution sign for the economy. Consumer outlays accounts for more than two-thirds of the nation’s economic activity.
Among the challenges facing the U.S. are slower business investment, a weaker manufacturing industry and a tit-for-tat trade fight with China that’s disrupting the world’s two largest economies.
Read: Trump takes a page out of early American history with steep tariffs on Chinese goods
Market reaction: The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, +0.08% and S&P 500 SPX, +0.23% were set to open lower in Wednesday trades. Stocks rose the day before to break a string of deep losses after trade talks between the U.S. and China broke down and spurred another round of tariffs.
Read: The monster clash between U.S., China over trade dwarfs all other issues about the economy
The 10-year Treasury yield TMUBMUSD10Y, -1.25% fell to 2.38%. The yield has sunk from a seven-year high of 3.23% last October.