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Commerce Dept.: February retail sales drop off

Washington -- With cold weather sweeping across much of the country, consumers shunned the malls and kept their hands and their wallets in their pockets during February, forcing retail sales down an unexpectedly sharp 1.3% from January levels, the Commerce Department reported. It was the steepest drop in six months.

The highly volatile automotive sector was particularly hard hit; sales slumped by 4.6% and acted as a drag on overall retail sales. But even excluding cars, retail sales declined by 0.4%.

Two home-related categories were among the month's big decliners. Sales of furniture and home furnishings stores fell by 4.0%, and sales of electronics and appliances declined by 2.0%. Non-store retailers were one of the month's success stories. It was the big gainer, driving sales up by 3.2%.

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