WASHINGTON Americans cut back sharply on spending at retail businesses in October, an indication that some may still be cautious about the economy.
Superstorm Sandy may have also slowed business at the end of the month.
The Commerce Department said Wednesday that sales dropped 0.3 percent after three months of gains. Auto sales fell 1.5 percent, the most in more than a year.
Excluding autos, gas and building materials, sales fell 0.1 percent. That followed a 0.9 percent gain in September for that category.
Online and catalog purchases fell 1.8 percent, the most in a year. Electronics and clothing stores also posted lower sales.
Meanwhile, wholesale inflation fell in October as a big drop in gasoline and other energy prices offset a rise in the cost of food.
Wholesale prices dipped 0.2 percent in October, the Labor Department said Wednesday. It was the first decline since May and followed big gains of 1.1 percent in September and 1.7 percent in August, increases that had been driven by spikes in energy.
Energy prices retreated a bit in October, dipping 0.5 percent, but food costs were up 0.4 percent as the summer drought continued to put pressure on some food prices.
Core prices, which exclude food and energy, fell 0.2 percent in October, the biggest drop in two years. Over the past year, core prices were up a moderate 2.1 percent, evidence inflation remains under control.
In October, the fall in energy costs included a 2.2 percent drop in gasoline prices, the biggest since July, and a 3.3 percent decline in home heating oil costs.
Separately, U.S. businesses increased their stockpiles in September, further evidence that economic growth was stronger over the summer than first thought.
The Commerce Department said inventories grew 0.7 percent in September, after a 0.6 percent increase in August.
Retailers, manufacturers and wholesale distributors all boosted their stockpiles. Their sales rose 1.4 percent in September— the most in more than a year.
Read tomorrow's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.