Retail sales fell 0.4% in November, widely missing expectations that they would rise slightly. It was the largest drop since a 0.5% decline in April.

But a 2.2% drop in auto sales, the largest since July 1998, accounted for much of the overall decline. Excluding autos, retail sales rose 0.2%, only narrowly missing the consensus forecast among economists for a 0.3% gain. In other words, the November drop in retail sales was not broad-based. A broad-based decline would suggest that consumer spending, the economy's main engine, is slowing more markedly.

Economists polled by


had forecast that retail sales would rise 0.1% overall.