Sales at U.S. retailers were flat in April as Americans continued to be thrifty shoppers, a trend that's intensified since the end of last summer despite cheaper gas. American spent more at restaurants and Internet sites, but they cut back on purchases of autos, home furnishings, electronic goods and fuel. Economists polled by MarketWatch had predicted a seasonally adjusted 0.1% increase in retail sales last month. Sales minus autos rose 0.1%, the Commerce Department said Wednesday, but that fell well short of the 0.4% forecast. Sales minus autos and gasoline edged up a tepid 0.2%. In March, sales were revised to show a stronger 1.1% gain instead of 0.9%. Yet sales in the past 12 months have slowed to a 0.9% rate, the smallest year-over-year gain since October 2009 just after the U.S. exited the Great Recession. Retail purchases have been slowing since August, when the annualized pace of sales briefly hit 5% for the first time since mid-2013.
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