A government report confirmed Wednesday that war jitters continued to keep consumers at home during April.

Retail sales fell an unexpected 0.1% last month, the Commerce Department said, compared with economists' expectations for a 0.4% rise. Excluding automobiles, retail sales fell 0.9%, the biggest drop in that number since September 2001, when sales fell by 1.2%.

Retail sales estimates for March were revised from a rise of 2.1% to 2.3%, but consumers, preoccupied by a sputtering economy and uncertainty in the Middle East, failed to carry their momentum into April.

The report showed dismal sales for clothing, furniture, building materials and garden tools, while gasoline sales fell 6%. On the bright side, it found rising sales at drug stores, sporting-goods stores, electronics and home-appliance stores. Sales for clothing, furniture, building materials and garden supplies were dismal.

Investors showed their disappointment on Wednesday morning. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was recently down 50 points at 8629, while the Nasdaq was off by 11 points at 1528.

"The numbers were definitely a big disappointment on Wall Street," said Giri Cherukuri, the head trader at Oak Brook Investments. "I think it's the main reason why the markets dropped today. The question now is whether this is a lasting trend or just a one-month blip. I think it's a one-month blip."