Retail sales were disappointing in February, with overall sales up 0.6%, but core sales -- which exclude autos -- were unchanged.

Economists were expecting the core rate to show a 0.5% gain. The headline rate met forecasts.

Overall sales in January were revised up to a 0.2% gain. Sales minus autos were also revised up for a 1.2% increase.

On the labor front, initial weekly jobless claims fell 6,000 to 341,000 in the week ended March 6, which was better than expected. Claims have now been below 400,000 -- thought to be the dividing line between growth and contraction in the labor market -- for almost four straight months.

The weekly jobless figures follow a government report last Friday showing that the economy created just 21,000 jobs in February, far short of the consensus estimate of 125,000. The jobless rate remained at 5.6%.