Auto purchasing declined in May, helping lead retail sales to a decline for the first time in almost a year. Sales fell 0.2 percent, but wholesale prices rose 0.2 percent in May, which was the slowest rate in 10 months. Food costs declined and gas prices gained the smallest amount in eight months.
The drop in retail sales followed 10 consecutive months of gains, the Commerce Department said Tuesday.
Auto sales were off by nearly 3 percent, the sharpest drop since February 2010. Experts said fewer price cuts and a shortage of popular fuel-efficient vehicles caused the drop. Japan's natural disasters hindered transfers of vehicles and parts to North America.
Without the drop in autos, retail sales were up 0.3 percent.
The retail sales decline shows that the economy is struggling, as consumers face high fuel prices and continued weakness in the job market.